Gambling is an activity that involves placing a bet on the outcome of an event with the intention of winning something of value. It is an impulsive activity that requires high levels of cognitive control to prevent excessive gambling behavior and subsequent addiction. However, even with the best of intentions and adequate cognitive control, a gambler can still suffer from pathological gambling disorder (PGD). Attempts to treat pathological gambling through integrated approaches have provided varying results, possibly due to differences in conceptualizations of the underlying etiology.
While the majority of people can easily walk away from a game of poker or from putting coins in a slot machine, a small percentage develop a gambling problem that leads to a vicious cycle. Some of these people may eventually become gambling addicts, whose lives spiral out of control and are often ruined. The underlying reason is that once an individual gambles, their brain changes in a way that makes it difficult for them to stop. The prefrontal cortex of the brain becomes less active during gambling and this causes the person to feel a rush when they win, which reinforces their impulsive actions.
This change in the brain also affects their ability to assess risk, which is why some gamblers are unable to quit. Moreover, some individuals are predisposed to addiction because of genetics and childhood experiences. A person who was exposed to a parent or sibling with a substance use disorder, for instance, is much more likely to develop an addictive gambling disorder.
Gambling also has economic and social impacts that can be positive or negative. For example, some casinos and betting establishments donate a portion of their profits to charitable organizations, and this helps to improve the overall quality of life in the community. Additionally, gambling can boost local economies and create jobs. However, new forms of gambling can also reduce charitable donations by competing with them for customers.
Negative effects of gambling can include a loss of family time, increased stress and anxiety, depression, and an inability to complete tasks at work. Additionally, a loss of social networks can result in strained relationships. Some gambling-related problems can be prevented by strengthening support networks and seeking therapy.
In the past, psychiatry viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but the American Psychiatric Association recently moved it into the category of impulse-control disorders, alongside kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania.
If you or a loved one has a gambling problem, seek professional help. There are several treatment options available, including psychodynamic therapy, which looks at unconscious processes that can influence an individual’s behavior. Another option is group therapy, which offers moral support and encouragement from peers. In addition, you can also consider joining a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Lastly, cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful in learning to manage problematic gambling behaviors and developing healthier coping mechanisms.