What is a Gambling Disorder?

Gambling involves putting money or something of value on the outcome of a chance event, such as a roll of dice, spinning a slot machine, or betting with friends. If you predict the outcome correctly, you win. If you lose, you forfeit the amount you put up. It can be a lot of fun, but when it becomes addictive you may have a gambling disorder.

When you gamble, your brain gets a reward from the activity that gives you a chemical rush. This reward is similar to the feeling you get from eating chocolate or spending time with your family and friends. People with gambling disorders are able to engage in this behavior, but they have difficulty controlling it and it negatively impacts their lives.

The understanding of gambling disorder has undergone a dramatic change over the past decade. It used to be viewed as a compulsion, but now it is recognized as a psychological problem like substance abuse. This shift has been reflected in, or stimulated by, the changes in the clinical classification of pathological gambling in various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

There are a variety of treatment options for people with gambling disorders. Counseling can help them understand why they gamble and how they can change their behavior. It can also teach them how to recognise their symptoms and avoid triggers. Some types of counseling include psychodynamic therapy, which looks at unconscious processes, group therapy, and marriage and family therapy.

Another type of treatment is cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches people to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviors. It can be especially helpful for people with gambling addictions, who often have irrational beliefs about the odds of an event occurring. They may believe that a series of losses is normal and that a future win is just around the corner, for example when they see two out of three cherries on a slot machine.

Some people are more susceptible to developing a gambling disorder than others. They may have low incomes and more to gain with a big win or they might be younger, and studies show that men are more likely to develop a gambling disorder than women.

Vulnerability is also increased when a person has other psychiatric problems, including depression or anxiety. It is also common for people who have a gambling disorder to try to hide their problem from loved ones, so they may lie about how much money they are spending or hiding evidence of gambling behavior.

There are currently no FDA approved medications for treating gambling disorders. However, a number of treatments have been shown to be effective in research trials. These include family therapy, psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, and social support. In addition to these treatments, many different organisations provide support, assistance and counselling for people with gambling disorders and their families. These services can be found on the internet or in telephone helplines. Some of these offer free counselling and support, while others are more expensive.