Dealing With Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves wagering something of value on an event that is largely random, with the intent of winning something else of value. Various gambling activities exist, such as playing card games like poker and blackjack, placing bets on horse races or sports events, and purchasing lottery tickets. Some gambling activities require skill, such as utilizing betting strategies in card games or analyzing horses and jockeys to predict likely outcomes in a race.

While many people enjoy gambling, some people develop a problem that interferes with their personal and professional lives. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), about 2.5 million adults have a severe gambling disorder, a condition that affects how they spend their money and time. It is also estimated that 5-8 million Americans have mild to moderate gambling problems.

Symptoms of a gambling problem include an inability to control impulses, an increased desire for gambling, and an inability to stop gambling. A person who has a gambling addiction may also feel compelled to hide their behavior and lie about how much they gamble. In addition, those with a gambling problem may experience a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, depression or anxiety, and financial difficulties.

There are a variety of treatment and rehab programs for those with gambling disorders, including residential or inpatient programs. These programs can help individuals learn healthier coping skills and address any underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to their gambling behavior. Inpatient and residential programs also offer support groups for family members, which can be a great resource when dealing with a loved one’s gambling disorder.

Although research in this area is ongoing, the current state of knowledge indicates that pathological gambling is a mental illness and should be classified as an addictive disorder. This decision, which was made after 15 years of deliberation, reflects a greater understanding of the biology of addiction and has already changed the way psychiatrists treat those who cannot stop gambling. In the future, it is hoped that additional criteria will be included in the DSM-5 to further distinguish pathological gambling from other forms of addictive behavior. Until then, professionals should focus on improving their ability to identify and treat the disorder, which can lead to serious consequences for an individual’s life. The APA is continuing to explore ways to increase awareness about gambling disorders and how they can be treated. In the meantime, those with a gambling problem can seek help from a licensed therapist or take steps to control their finances by removing credit cards from their wallet, having someone else manage their money, closing online betting accounts, and keeping only a small amount of cash on hand. If they are able to do this, they can avoid the temptation to gamble and find other ways to cope with their emotions. This will also help them avoid putting themselves or their families at risk.