Most adults and adolescents have gambled at some point – either by buying a lotto ticket, placing bets on sports events or using the pokies. However, a significant subset of people have gambling problems. Pathological gambling (PG) is a pattern of maladaptive gambling behaviors that is associated with distress or impairment. PG is a common mental health problem affecting about 0.4-1.6% of the US population. It can start in adolescence or early adulthood and persist for several years before diagnosis.
Research into gambling has largely focused on identifying risk factors and attempting to develop effective treatments. The most commonly cited risk factor is impulsivity. Studies show that impulsivity is related to onset of gambling behavior and its progression. However, the relationship is complex and there are other contributing factors that influence a person’s tendency to gamble. These include sensation-and novelty-seeking, arousal, and negative emotions.
Many people use gambling as a way to relieve unpleasant feelings. They may gamble when they feel bored or lonely, after a difficult day at work, or after an argument with their partner. However, there are healthier and more effective ways to relieve unpleasant emotions such as exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. It is also important to address any underlying mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or stress that may contribute to a person’s gambling behavior.
Gambling involves risk and winnings are based on chance, not skill. It is important to set money and time limits for gambling and to stop when you reach them, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. It is also important to avoid gambling when you are feeling depressed or upset, as this can lead to bigger losses. If you do have a gambling problem, seek help as soon as possible, and remember that it is not your fault.
While there are no medications specifically designed to treat gambling disorder, some can be used to manage the symptoms of other conditions such as depression or anxiety. Counseling and therapy can help people understand their relationship with gambling, think about options, and solve problems. Couple and family counseling can be particularly helpful to address the impact of a gambling disorder on a person’s relationships.
Longitudinal studies are needed to identify the causes of a person’s gambling behavior and determine if there is any recovery from it. These studies are challenging to undertake because of the massive funding required for a multiyear commitment; difficulties with maintaining research teams over a lengthy period of time; and sample attrition. Despite these challenges, longitudinal gambling research is becoming more commonplace, sophisticated, and theory-based.