How Gambling Can Lead to Problems

Gambling is any activity where a person stakes something of value – often money – on an event that has some element of chance and offers the possibility of winning a prize. People can gamble in a variety of ways, from buying lottery tickets to betting on sports events and playing slots or machines. The risk may be as low as the cost of a ticket or as high as a life-changing jackpot.

For some, gambling can lead to problems such as compulsive or pathological gambling (PG). In the past, it was controversial whether a behavior like this could be considered an addiction, but now most researchers agree that if someone is addicted to gambling, they should get help. PG is more common in men than in women, and it usually develops during adolescence or young adulthood. It can occur in all social classes and can have devastating effects on families and work performance.

Psychiatric experts agree that psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for a gambling problem, and there are several types of therapy. Some involve teaching a person healthier ways to manage their emotions, unwind, or socialize. Others focus on changing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any medications to treat gambling disorders.

Identifying pathways that can lead to gambling problems can help researchers better understand how people get hooked. For example, one pathway might be a person’s close proximity to a casino or other gambling venue, which can make them more likely to participate in harmful levels of gambling. Another pathway might be a person’s history of trauma or abuse, which can trigger impulsive and risk-taking behaviors. Lastly, some people may be more vulnerable to gambling because it relieves boredom or stress.