Gambling involves placing something of value, such as money or merchandise, on the outcome of an event whose result is determined at least partly by chance. The activity can be conducted legally or illegally. Gambling is distinguished from other types of wagering, such as sports betting and horse racing. In the United States, laws on gambling vary widely between state governments. Some states have banned gambling entirely, while others regulate it to some extent. Some states even allow residents to place bets via Internet-based casinos.
Some people are at higher risk for developing a gambling disorder than others. Those who start gambling at a young age, are male, or live in poorer families are especially susceptible. Many people with a gambling disorder also have mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which may trigger and worsen their addiction. People who develop a gambling disorder are at greater risk for a variety of social problems, including legal trouble and financial hardship.
Research suggests that as many as 5% of all gamblers develop a gambling disorder, and that men are more likely to be affected than women. Symptoms of gambling disorders can begin during adolescence or early adulthood, and can be present for a lifetime. A significant percentage of people with a gambling disorder are considered pathological, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Researchers have identified several risk factors for a gambling disorder, and they have found that many people with a gambling disorder have mood disorders. In fact, the co-occurrence of gambling and depressive symptoms has been a consistent finding in studies. Depression and anxiety can often trigger or make worse a gambling problem, and may be present in up to 50% of people treated for gambling disorders.
Those who have a gambling problem often feel that they can’t stop, and they may engage in dangerous or reckless behaviors to try to relieve their feelings of despair. They may lie to their family members and therapists, or steal money to fund their gambling habits. They may also develop gambling debts and use their addiction to finance other illicit activities, such as forgery or fraud. Often, a person who is addicted to gambling will lose a job, school or career opportunity, or jeopardize their personal safety in an attempt to cover losses from their gambling.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s gambling problem, don’t go it alone. Seek help from a support group or a counselor. Then set boundaries in managing money, so that you can prevent a gambling addiction from impacting your life or the lives of those you love. You might consider taking over family finances so that the gambler is accountable and can’t just rationalize “this one last time.” Find healthy ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. You can also seek therapy for underlying mood disorders that may have caused or made worse a gambling disorder.