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Gambling – Causes, Development, Maintenance and Consequences


Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event whose outcome is determined by chance, where skill and knowledge play a minimal role. A bet on a horse race is considered gambling, for example, as is paying premiums for life insurance in the hope of winning (or at least surviving) within a specified time.

The term disordered gambling is used to describe a range of gambling behavior from that which puts individuals at risk for more serious problems to those behaviors that meet diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling in the American Psychiatric Association’s fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4). Research on the causes, development, maintenance and consequences of gambling behaviors can be best conducted with longitudinal designs.

Research has identified several factors that can contribute to an individual’s risk for gambling problems, including genetic predisposition, brain circuitry related to reward processing and impulsivity, and the influence of community values and beliefs about gambling. The social and psychological costs of problem gambling are high. People who gamble can lose money, ruin relationships, jeopardize their health and employment, become depressed and even suicidal. In addition, many communities view gambling as a legitimate pastime and it can be difficult for someone with a problem to seek help.

If you have a family member who has a gambling addiction, try to encourage them to get help and take steps to set boundaries in managing the household finances. Reach out to a support network and try to develop healthy, productive activities that can replace gambling. Consider taking up a hobby, exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or joining a peer support program such as Gamblers Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.