Gambling Disorder


Gambling is the betting of something of value, often money, on an uncertain event with a chance of winning. It is distinguished from bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts and from insurance and guaranty. It includes wagering on horse racing and lotteries, but does not include bona fide sports or other events with fixed outcomes or the purchase or sale at a future date of securities, commodities, or financial instruments.

Most adults have placed a bet, or “wager,” at some point in their lives, and most do so without any significant problems. However, a subset of people develops gambling disorder (GDD), which is characterized by recurrent, maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that cause distress or impairment. In the United States, it is estimated that there are about 1.4 million people with GDD.

Many factors can contribute to a person’s vulnerability to gambling-related harm, including genetic traits and coexisting mental health conditions. Personality traits, such as impulsivity and thrill-seeking, may also be at play. Some research suggests that individuals with a less active brain reward system may be predisposed to addiction.

The culture and environment in which you live can also affect your risk for gambling-related harm. For example, some communities view gambling as a common pastime, which can make it difficult to recognize when gambling is becoming a problem. Gender and age also play a role: men are more likely to develop gambling disorder than women, and they typically begin gambling at a younger age. In addition, male pathological gamblers report problems with strategic forms of gambling, while female pathological gamblers have more difficulty with nonstrategic types of gambling, such as slot machines.

Treatment options for gambling disorders include psychotherapy and support groups. In psychotherapy, a trained mental health professional helps you learn to identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can provide you with the peer support you need to stop gambling and maintain your recovery. Some people with gambling disorder find relief from family therapy, which can help you repair damaged relationships and create a more stable home environment.

Behavioral treatments for gambling disorders can teach you to recognize and avoid triggers that lead to harmful gambling behavior, such as the gambler’s fallacy: the mistaken belief that a previous streak of losses will increase your chances of making a win. You can also practice a healthy way to manage money, which will prevent you from spending more than you can afford to lose. In addition, counseling may help you find healthier ways to cope with stress and address any other mental health issues that may be contributing to your gambling behavior. In some cases, medications can be useful for addressing gambling disorders. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any drugs for this purpose.