A form of risky entertainment, gambling involves betting something of value on an event that is at least partly determined by chance. The hope is that the gambler will win and gain something of value, such as money or other goods or services. This activity can be legal or illegal depending on the jurisdiction and may include games of skill, such as poker or basketball. It can also involve the use of random devices, such as dice or playing cards, to determine the winner of a contest, such as a horse race.
Although many people engage in gambling, it is important to remember that this activity is not without its risks. In addition to the potential for financial loss, it can cause psychological distress and lead to social problems. In some cases, gambling can even become an addiction. A person who has a serious problem with gambling needs help to overcome their addiction.
Several different treatments have been developed for people with gambling disorders. In addition to individual therapy, family and group counseling are often helpful. Some programs use cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches people to resist unwanted thoughts and habits. Specifically, the therapist can help the patient to confront irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a string of losses will soon be followed by a big win (like three out of four cherries on a slot machine).
Many individuals with gambling disorder have mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. In fact, it is common for these disorders to trigger or make worse gambling behavior. Therefore, it is important to treat the underlying mental health condition. In addition, a person who has a mood disorder should avoid any activities that are associated with gambling.
Research into the relationship between gambling and mood disorders is ongoing. Longitudinal studies are particularly useful because they allow researchers to examine a person’s gambling history over a prolonged period of time. In addition to identifying specific patterns of gambling, longitudinal studies can help researchers establish whether mood symptoms precede or follow the onset of gambling disorder.
Many psychiatric experts agree that gambling is an addictive behavior. In fact, in the 1980s, the psychiatric community officially classified pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder–a fuzzy label that also included kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). However, a few years ago, the APA moved pathological gambling to the addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This change was meant to increase the credibility of this psychiatric disorder and promote awareness, screening and treatment for this problematic behavior. The reclassification also helped to clarify the distinction between gambling and other forms of addiction.