Gambling Disorder – What is Compulsive Gambling?


Whether you’re playing roulette, slots, blackjack, poker or sports, gambling involves risking something of value on an outcome that is based on chance. It can be done legally and ethically when managed properly, but it is also possible to become addicted to gambling. Various studies have shown that about two million Americans are suffering from an addiction to this activity, and it can ruin lives if not treated early. There are many treatment options for gambling disorder, including residential programs and support groups for people who are struggling.

The definition of gambling varies from state to state, but usually includes any activity where someone places an item of value (such as money) on an event with a specified chance of winning. The activity can be a game, race, or other event, or it could be a business transaction that is regulated by law, such as purchasing stocks or securities. A person may gamble for social, recreational, or financial reasons. For example, a person may play for fun, to win big money, or to get a rush or high.

While most adults and adolescents have placed some type of bet, a small number of individuals go on to develop a serious problem called compulsive gambling. This is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent recurrent pattern of gambling behavior that is associated with distress or impairment.

In order to be classified as a compulsive gambler, a person must meet certain criteria: he or she is often preoccupied with gambling and its consequences (e.g., reliving past gambling experiences or planning the next venture); he or she tries to recover lost money by betting more than he or she can afford to lose; he or she lies to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of his or her involvement with gambling; he or she jeopardizes a relationship, job, educational or career opportunity, or finances in order to gamble; and he or she recurs to gambling as a way to relieve unpleasant feelings.

It is common for people to turn to gambling as a way to relieve boredom or loneliness, especially after a stressful day at work or following an argument with their spouse. However, there are healthier and safer ways to cope with these feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, taking up new hobbies, or practicing relaxation techniques.

The first step in overcoming a gambling addiction is realizing that there is a problem. This can be difficult, especially if the person has lost a lot of money or has strained relationships as a result of the habit. Once this is done, he or she can begin seeking treatment for the problem. There are a variety of treatments available, including cognitive-behavior therapy, which helps a person learn to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviors. It also teaches a person to confront irrational beliefs, such as believing that a string of losses or a near miss will signal an imminent win.