Gambling Disorders – What is Pathological Gambling?


Gambling is the act of putting something of value, typically money, at risk on an event with an element of chance and with the hope of winning. It may include bets on games of skill such as blackjack and poker or on non-skills-based events such as horse races, lottery tickets, or slot machines. Gambling can also involve other activities that are characterized by an element of chance such as dice, card tricks, or keno.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a disorder that affects about 0.4%-1.6% of Americans. Those with PG experience persistent, recurrent patterns of maladaptive gambling behaviour. The onset of PG typically occurs in adolescence or young adulthood and continues to develop over several years. Unlike some other addictive behaviours, PG is not triggered by specific situations or experiences and does not result from the use of illegal drugs or alcohol.

While the majority of people who gamble do so responsibly, some individuals may become addicted to gambling. Some of these people will continue to gamble even when they are causing harm to themselves or others, and may hide their betting activity from family and friends. There are a number of organisations that offer help, support, and counselling to those who have a problem with gambling.

In order to successfully control one’s gambling habits, it is important to set realistic expectations about what can be achieved. Firstly, it is crucial to understand how the brain responds to gambling. Whenever you gamble, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good when you win. However, this reaction is not only triggered when you are lucky enough to win, but also when you lose.

Secondly, it is essential to establish a bankroll for yourself before you start gambling. This should be a set amount of disposable income that you can afford to spend on gambling, and it is recommended that you do not use any money that you have to save or pay for bills or rent. This will ensure that you do not get carried away and spend more than you can afford to lose.

Psychological therapy can be a helpful tool for those with gambling disorders, and it may help to address underlying issues such as anxiety or depression. Various types of cognitive behaviour therapy have been shown to be effective, and these therapies involve looking at the logic behind gambling, for example the odds of winning and beliefs about luck and skill in nonskills-based games. Some patients have found financial counselling to be beneficial as well, and this can provide alternative ways of achieving financial recovery.

Lastly, it is important to seek support and advice from family and friends. It is also advisable to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses a 12-step programme modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous. It is also important to find new social activities that do not involve gambling, such as joining a book club or sports team, taking an education class, or volunteering for a worthy cause.