Gambling Addiction


Gambling involves risking money or something of value on an activity that is primarily determined by chance. It has existed in virtually every society since prerecorded history and is incorporated into many local customs and rituals.

While most individuals participate in gambling activities for enjoyment and social interaction, a small percentage become seriously involved in terms of time invested and money wagered. Individuals who develop a problem with gambling experience substantial and negative personal, family, work and financial effects.

Unlike games of pure chance, where the outcome is completely random and uncontrollable, some activities like card playing or sports betting involve the use of skills that can improve the chances of winning. However, the overwhelming majority of gambling activities are based on chance alone (Bolen & Boyd, 1968). The various types of gambling activities include pari-mutuels (horse and dog tracks, off-track betting parlors, jai alai), lotteries, casinos (slot machines or poker), bookmaking (sports books and horse race books) and bingo (Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, 2007).

Many individuals who develop a problem with gambling are men; women gamble less than men and tend to have fewer problems with gambling. Gambling can occur at any age but young children, teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable. It is important for parents to understand that gambling can have serious consequences for their children and take steps to prevent it.

People with a gambling addiction often experience distressing symptoms that interfere with their daily functioning, including anxiety and depression. Symptoms may also affect the performance of work or studies, damage relationships and lead to job loss or homelessness.

The prevalence of gambling in the United States has increased rapidly during the past several decades. The causes of this increase are multifaceted. Some of these factors include an economic downturn that resulted in greater emphasis on income and wealth, a rapid growth of business, a societal shift from traditional family structures to nuclear families, the development of more accessible gambling venues, technological advances, and changes in the social and cultural norms that encourage risk-taking behaviors.

Symptoms of gambling addiction can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, income level or education. They can be present in anyone from adolescents to seniors and can include a wide range of behaviors.

People with a gambling addiction often experience stress in their lives that leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive gambling. Changing these behaviors can help alleviate these negative symptoms and lead to a happier, healthier life. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, talk to a health professional. There are many resources available to help overcome a gambling disorder, from counseling to inpatient programs. Many of these programs are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and include finding a sponsor, or a former compulsive gambler who can offer support and guidance. During treatment, it is also important to seek care for any underlying mood disorders that are contributing to the gambling behavior.