Psychiatry and Gambling


Gambling is a risky activity where you place a wager on something that has an uncertain outcome. It can involve betting on the outcome of a sporting event, such as football matches or horse races, or it could be playing games like slot machines and roulette. You might also place a bet using virtual currency such as coins in a video game or cards in a card game, such as poker. Alternatively, you might gamble with items that have a value such as marbles or collectible game pieces (such as from Pogs or Magic: The Gathering). You can either risk real money, which is usually cash, or virtual currency.

A person may be described as a problem gambler if their gambling interferes with other aspects of their life, such as work or personal relationships. The severity of a gambling problem can vary from mild to severe, and it is important for people who think they have a problem to seek help.

Psychiatry’s understanding of pathological gambling has changed significantly over time. For the longest time, it was viewed as a type of impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania (hair pulling). However, in recent years, the American Psychiatric Association has moved pathological gambling into the addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Researchers have found that people who gamble compulsively are at high risk of developing depression and other mood disorders. They are also at a greater risk of suicide and other forms of self-harm. These factors can contribute to the development of gambling disorders and make them difficult to treat.

In addition to treating the symptoms of gambling problems, doctors can also recommend ways to reduce or avoid them altogether. This includes removing credit cards, setting up automatic payments, closing online gambling accounts, and keeping only a small amount of cash on hand at all times. They can also suggest therapy, such as cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches individuals to resist unwanted thoughts and habits.

In some cases, doctors might also prescribe antidepressants or other medications to treat underlying mood disorders that may contribute to gambling addiction. They might also suggest a program that is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, which offers peer support and advice on how to overcome gambling addiction. Lastly, they might suggest taking steps to strengthen a person’s social network. This could include finding new activities to do with friends, such as joining a book club or sports team, or making new friendships by attending meetings of a recovery group for gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous. This can help people find the support and motivation they need to quit gambling.