Gambling refers to wagering something of value on an unpredictable future event that lies outside one’s influence, such as playing a game of chance or racing a horse. Gambling does not include business transactions that abide by contract law such as investing in stocks and securities, selling goods or services and purchasing life, health or accident insurance policies.
Though most gamblers experience no issues when gambling, some develop gambling disorders. These conditions are characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that lead to significant distress or impairment. Gambling disorders are an impulse control condition that impedes how individuals process rewards, regulate impulses and assess risk. People living with gambling disorders frequently lie to family, therapists and others in order to conceal the extent of their gambling involvement. Gamblers may commit illegal acts like forgery, embezzlement, theft and fraud in order to finance their gambling addiction. Their gambling behavior may even jeopardize or compromise important relationships, jobs, educational or career opportunities and could potentially have serious repercussions for all those involved.
There are various reasons for people to gamble, the three primary being social, emotional and financial. Some gamble as a form of therapy to forget their worries or unwind after an exhausting day; others gamble for entertainment as it offers them a thrill from winning money or possessions; still others experience thrill of placing bets and potentially winning big; those vulnerable to gambling addiction may begin gambling early and for longer than expected – this problem often starts earlier and lasts longer.
Longitudinal research is necessary in order to understand the development and persistence of gambling disorder. Such studies could identify factors contributing to its onset, such as genetic or biological predispositions towards reward-seeking behaviors and impulsivity, genetic markers for reward seeking behavior or genetic predispositions toward gambling disorder. They would also shed light on how gambling interacts with personal, familial, environmental and socioeconomic variables.
Understanding why people gamble and how they might change their gambling habits could help prevent or treat gambling disorders. For instance, new insights into human neurobiology of reward processing and decision-making could facilitate development of novel medications with anti-addiction properties to mitigate addictive potential of gambling activities.
Not all forms of treatment for gambling problems involve medication; there are also self-help programs and peer support groups dedicated to people struggling with their gambling issues such as Gam-Anon and Gamblers Anonymous that follow a 12-step recovery model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Alternative self-help approaches include avoiding situations or environments that trigger gambling, replacing unhealthy coping behaviors with healthier ones and strengthening support networks. People suffering from serious gambling issues should seek inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs designed for those unable to control their behavior without 24/7 support. Such programs should include family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques tailored specifically for each person involved in treatment.