Understanding Gambling and Gambling Disorders


Gambling is an activity in which an individual risks something of value (money, property or other assets) on the outcome of a game based on chance, such as betting on sporting events or playing a slot machine. It can be a fun pastime for many people, but for some it can cause serious problems. These can affect their physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends, work performance, ability to study, lead to debt and even homelessness. Problem gambling can also harm those close to them, such as family, friends and co-workers.

The understanding of gambling and gambling disorders has undergone a profound change in the past two decades. Historically, people who experienced adverse consequences of gambling have been viewed as gamblers with problems; today they are regarded as having psychological disorders. This shift in outlook has been reflected or stimulated by the evolution of diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

It is widely accepted that the majority of gambling behavior is based on a combination of a desire to obtain a specific sensation or novelty, and an inability to control impulses. Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking suggests that individuals entertain the risk of monetary loss in order to experience states of high arousal during periods of uncertainty and the positive reinforcement associated with winning, despite overwhelmingly long odds against doing so. Cloninger’s theory of personality suggests that individuals who enjoy complex or varied stimulation are more likely to be attracted to gambling activities, such as buying a lottery ticket or playing a casino game.

In addition, individuals may develop a sense of control by gambling, since it can give them a feeling of mastery over a situation that is largely out of their hands. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are no ways to manipulate the outcome of a gambling game; every spin of the wheel or deal of cards is determined by chance, and the probability of winning is the same for everyone.

To minimize the potential for gambling-related harms, individuals should not be lured into gambling by promises of big wins or free cocktails, and should consider their bankroll before deciding how much to spend. In addition, they should make it a personal rule not to gamble on credit, and avoid chasing losses. They should also balance gambling with other activities, and not let it interfere with their daily responsibilities or take the place of family, work, or leisure activities. Finally, they should never use drugs or alcohol while gambling, as this can negatively impact their judgment. Lastly, they should remember that gambling is not a way to get rich; it is a form of entertainment. If you have any questions about gambling, or would like to speak with someone confidentially about your own or a loved one’s gambling problems, please call the helpline on 0800 002 555.