Gambling is the wagering of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on an uncertain event whose outcome is determined by chance. Unlike other activities such as sports, the stock market, and poker, which require skill and knowledge on the part of bettors, gambling is generally considered to be an activity based on pure chance.
People gamble for a variety of reasons, from social to financial. Some gamble for the excitement of it, or because they like the rush or “high” that gambling gives them. Others do it to try and make money, or because they think that winning could change their lifestyle for the better. Gambling can also be a way to forget worries or problems, or to relieve stress.
Problem gambling is characterized by harmful consequences to the individual’s health, work or family life, and emotional well-being. The behavior can be impulsive and out of control. There are a number of strategies for dealing with these behaviors, including therapy and self-help programs. Counseling can help individuals understand why they are gambling, and consider their options. It can also help them identify and address underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can cause or be exacerbated by compulsive gambling.
In addition, there are a number of cognitive and motivational biases that distort the odds of events and influence a person’s preferences for certain bets. For example, a person may be over-weighted by their previous positive experiences and ignore evidence of the opposite (such as a bad run in the lottery). Another common bias is heuristics, such as the tendency to associate an event with something familiar or popular. These biases can be overcome by awareness and training.
The understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone a dramatic shift over time, from a view that it is just an ordinary form of entertainment to one that reflects the seriousness of its impact on society. This change was reflected in, and perhaps stimulated by, the evolution of the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, between 1980 and 1994.
The DSM criteria for pathological gambling include a loss of control over the behavior, preoccupation with gambling and obtaining money to gamble, irrational thinking, and a continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences. The changes to the DSM criteria over the years have been motivated by a desire to be more scientific, as well as an attempt to account for the increasing similarity of pathological gambling to other forms of addiction, especially substance abuse. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of gambling disorders. However, some medications may be helpful in treating co-occurring mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety. For the most part, though, the treatment of gambling disorders is primarily behavioral and cognitive. Changing the behavior requires a commitment to stop, and support from friends and family.