Gambling and Mental Health


Gambling is a recreational activity that involves placing a bet on the outcome of an event. It can be very addictive, and can cause severe problems in people’s lives. It is important to recognize and address any problem gambling behaviors, as they can affect relationships, finances, work, education, and other areas of life. In some cases, gambling can be a sign of underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

Gambling triggers the brain’s reward system, similar to how eating or spending time with loved ones do. Those who have compulsive gambling disorder experience an intense desire to gamble, even when they know it is not healthy. They may try to justify their behavior by arguing that they’re only gambling a small amount of money, or that it is not hurting anyone else. This is an attempt to self-soothe painful emotions and avoid negative consequences.

There are several risk factors for developing a gambling problem, including family history, mood disorders, and personality traits. Problem gambling can also be a symptom of another psychiatric condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Many people also develop a problem when they are under stress or experiencing other life changes. Lastly, many people who develop a gambling problem have other coexisting conditions such as an eating disorder or substance use disorder.

The understanding of what constitutes a pathological gambler has undergone a profound change over the years, and this is reflected in, or stimulated by, the evolving clinical classification and description of problem gambling in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The current version of the DSM, called DSM-5, defines pathological gambling as a serious and chronic disorder that interferes with a person’s functioning in a number of ways, including their ability to control impulses, plan, organize, and execute tasks.

Research on the development of gambling problems and their treatment is complex and difficult to design and conduct. The most useful research is longitudinal, which allows researchers to follow a group of individuals over time. This allows researchers to identify specific circumstances that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation, and can also help infer causality.

Unfortunately, longitudinal studies of gambling behavior are rare, due to the massive amount of funding needed for a multiyear commitment; problems with team continuity over this period; concerns about the effect of sample attrition and age on results; and knowledge that longitudinal data confound aging and time effects. However, as research in this area becomes more sophisticated and theory based, longitudinal research will become increasingly common.