Causes of Gambling Addiction

Gambling involves the risking of money or something else of value on an event with an uncertain outcome. It includes everything from buying lottery tickets to betting on a horse race to playing card games and casino gambling. Some forms of gambling are socially acceptable and even admired, while others are illegal and often associated with organized crime. Problem gambling can have severe consequences for gamblers and those around them, including poor health, damaged relationships, and lost work or study opportunities.

The brain’s reward system sends messages to the body that cause it to feel good when we win, and bad when we lose. Those who are addicted to gambling experience an altered version of these chemical signals and can become hooked on this false sense of pleasure. The result is that they must bet more and more to feel the same high and avoid the unpleasant sensation of losing. This is why many gamblers end up in troubled relationships, in financial difficulty, and in court with the law.

People who have a gambling disorder are unable to control their gambling, or stop when they should. They may lie to family and friends, spend more and more time gambling, or try to get back the money they have already lost (“chasing” losses). These problems can lead to significant emotional distress, damaged relationships, and a variety of other serious health, social, and economic problems.

In some cases, an individual’s sensitivity to gambling can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may also have a personality that is predisposed to excessive gambling and find it difficult to stop.

Another cause of gambling addiction is a lack of control over one’s emotions, which can lead to self-soothing or escapism via gambling. The risk of this can increase with the level and duration of gambling involvement and with the degree of underlying psychological issues.

A final cause of gambling addiction is the failure to recognise that chance plays a key role in gambling. Despite the fact that skill can improve the chances of winning, gambling is essentially a game of chance and the probability of a win does not change after a series of losses. This is similar to flipping a coin: after seven tails, we may rationalise the unlikeliness of getting heads next by saying that it will ‘balance out’.

The earliest evidence of gambling can be found in Stone Age cultures, with dice and other guessing games recorded among the Bushmen of Africa and Australian Aborigines. It has been a part of all societies, from primitive to the most advanced, and continues to fascinate many today. Understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone a profound shift, and pathological gambling is now considered to be an addictive disorder akin to substance abuse. This change in nomenclature has been reflected in, and stimulated by, the changing clinical classification of pathological gambling in various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.