Gambling Disorders – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


Gambling is an activity in which a person puts something of value (typically money) at risk on the outcome of a random event, such as a casino game, lottery, or race. Some gamblers are just having fun and don’t take it too seriously, while others are battling an addiction that can have severe financial and personal consequences. Whether it happens in a casino, at the race track, on a slot machine, or online, gambling can become an obsession that ruins lives and causes untold harm.

The earliest evidence of gambling comes from China, where tiles from around 2,300 B.C. were found that appeared to be a rudimentary form of a lottery-type game. Today, gamblers can place bets on sports events, horse races, lottery games, dice, cards, bingo, and more. The practice is legal in some countries and illegal in others, and can take many forms, from a quick visit to a casino to betting on the outcome of a football match or a presidential election.

Symptoms of a gambling problem can be as mild or as serious as a full-blown addiction, and can begin at any time in life. Research suggests that a combination of factors may contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing gambling disorder. These include a family history of the condition, social inequality and stress, traumatic experiences during adolescence or early adulthood, and other psychological problems.

While it isn’t clear what causes a person to develop gambling disorder, we do know that it affects people from all walks of life. It can ruin relationships, cause financial disaster, and even lead to criminal activities like forgery or theft. A person with a gambling problem can also experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

Gambling disorders can be treated by a variety of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and group or family counseling. In addition to these treatments, some individuals benefit from taking medication. Medications that treat underlying mood disorders—like depression, anxiety, and stress—can sometimes ease the symptoms of a gambling disorder.

The first step to overcoming a gambling disorder is admitting that you have a problem. This can be a huge step, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or have strained or broken relationships because of your gambling. You can also seek treatment or rehab programs that offer round-the-clock support. These programs may be in-patient or residential, and will help you build a strong support network while working on recovery. If you’re able, it’s also important to try to strengthen your support network by spending time with other people who don’t gamble or bet on sports and other events. You could try joining a book club or gym, signing up for an educational class, or becoming involved in a peer support group for problem gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous. In these groups, you can find a sponsor—another former gambler who has successfully stopped gambling—who can provide advice and encouragement. Also, consider trying a mindfulness meditation or hypnotherapy technique to reduce the urge to gamble.