Gambling Disorder – Is There Such a Thing?

Whether buying a lottery ticket, scratching off a instant scratch card or playing video poker or slots, gambling is a risky way to spend money. Whether it’s an occasional flutter on the horses or sports, most people gamble at some time in their lives. Some do it regularly and for substantial sums. Some even have a problem. While many people enjoy a little bit of risk-taking, the reality is that gambling is not a lucrative way to make money. In fact, it can lead to financial, work, and relationship problems. Those with compulsive gambling disorder may find themselves in desperate situations and relying on others for money.

While the term “gambling” is most often associated with casinos, it can occur in other places as well – at the gas pump, church halls, sporting events and even online. Stock market trading and buying life insurance are also types of gambling. People place wagers on the likelihood of an event occurring, such as winning the lottery or a lawsuit being filed.

For those who believe they have a gambling problem, there is help. The psychiatric community has developed criteria that indicate when someone’s gambling behavior has crossed the line from normal to pathological. These criteria are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The latest edition, DSM-5, now lists Gambling Disorder alongside other addictive behaviors.

To be classified as a gambling disorder, one must meet several of the following criteria:

Is preoccupied with thoughts about gambling and its consequences (e.g., reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, handicapping or anticipating future outcomes). Has lost significant amounts of money gambling and/or has made repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or control gambling. Has jeopardized a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity, or health care treatment because of gambling. Has lied, stolen, or committed another illegal act to finance gambling.

Gambling addiction is more common than previously thought. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it affects about 2% of adults and is more prevalent than bulimia and anorexia. It’s also more common than depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

Approximately $10 trillion is wagered legally each year on gambling products, including lotteries, horse racing, football pools, sports betting, and online gaming. The vast majority of money is placed on the outcome of chance, rather than skill. This makes it difficult to determine the true cost of gambling.

A good starting point for anyone concerned about gambling is to get in touch with a counselor or support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Counseling can focus on family, marriage, and financial issues created by gambling addiction, as well as teach coping skills that will last a lifetime. Another excellent resource is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can help change unhealthy gambling behaviors and beliefs and improve work, relationships, and finances. In addition, a counselor can identify underlying conditions contributing to gambling addiction and help the individual seek treatment for these issues.