Recognizing the Signs of Gambling Disorders


Whether they buy a lotto ticket, bet on horse races or play the pokies, most people gamble at some time in their lives. For some people gambling becomes a serious problem, causing harm to themselves and others. Problem gambling can lead to debt, family discord and even bankruptcy. It is important to recognize the signs of a gambling disorder and seek help if necessary.

What is Gambling?

Gambling is a popular activity in many countries. It is a type of risk-taking where a person risks something of value (money, property or possessions) on the outcome of an event that has some element of chance. It is also an activity where a person can win something of value, or a prize, in exchange for the stake that has been placed. This is often money, but it can be anything of value, including merchandise, services or other goods.

People are more likely to participate in gambling activities that are easy to access, like those located close to their homes or workplaces. In addition, proximity to gambling venues may increase the likelihood of gambling problems. This is why it is recommended that you not gamble in places where people you know have a problem.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a behavioral addiction. It is characterized by recurrent, maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that cause significant distress or impairment in the life of the person affected by it. PG is more common in men than in women and it tends to start during adolescence or young adulthood, although some people begin at later ages. Those who develop PG are more likely to report problems with strategic, face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack and poker, than with nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as slot machines and bingo.

Research on gambling disorders is increasing. Longitudinal studies examining changes over time are particularly helpful as they allow researchers to identify the factors that contribute to gambling behavior and to understand the nature of the disorder. However, longitudinal gambling studies are challenging to conduct due to the immense funding required for a multiyear study; the logistical difficulties involved in maintaining a research team and sample over a lengthy period of time; the difficulty in controlling for aging and period effects (e.g., does a person’s interest in gambling change over the years because of age or because their neighborhood has new casinos?) and the lack of availability of funding to pay for such studies.

A person with a gambling disorder can learn to manage their urges to gamble and to make better choices about when, where and how much they will bet. They can find other ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. They can also find support through groups for those with gambling disorder, such as Gamblers Anonymous. In addition, they can postpone gambling until another time and look for ways to earn money that are more reliable and don’t put their personal or financial well-being at risk.