Gambling involves putting something of value (usually money) at risk on an event with some element of chance. It can be done in a variety of ways, including betting on a football match, playing a casino game or buying scratchcards. There are many reasons why people gamble – it could be for social reasons, financial, for excitement or to get a rush. However, some people find it difficult to control their gambling and can become addicted.
Gamblers choose which bet to place based on the odds. These are calculated using a complex set of mathematical formulas and are similar to those used by insurance companies when setting their premiums. In addition, there are many psychological biases that can distort perceived odds. These include:
People who are prone to problem gambling often have a pre-existing imbalance in their brain chemistry, and may also be genetically predisposed to thrill seeking behaviours and impulsivity. These factors, combined with environmental triggers, can lead to excessive gambling.
Research shows that when someone makes a bet, the brain releases a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine. This chemical helps us to recognise and enjoy rewards, so it is no wonder that we feel excited when we win! However, dopamine receptors are sensitive to losses and the more we lose, the less dopamine is released. This means that over time, we can begin to lose the enjoyment of winning and eventually stop getting a high from gambling altogether.
There are a number of different approaches to treating compulsive gambling. Some therapies focus on reducing the urge to gamble by teaching patients new coping skills. Others address underlying issues such as depression, anxiety or stress. A combination of these therapies can be effective. Some therapies also use physical activity to help reduce the desire to gamble. Others, such as family therapy and credit counselling, can help to rebuild relationships and repair finances.
While some families have had success addressing gambling problems, it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. It is also critical to involve the whole family, as gambling problems can have serious consequences on all aspects of a person’s life.
Pathological gambling is a disorder classified in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an impulse control disorder. This change reflects the recognition that pathological gambling has similarities to other addictions, such as substance dependence. The DSM nomenclature has evolved over time, reflecting the opinions of research scientists, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians. These different perspectives have resulted in a wide range of conceptualizations of pathological gambling.