Causes of Gambling Problems


Gambling is a form of risk-taking in which a person places something of value (cash, goods, services, or even oneself) on an event that involves some element of chance. It is generally regarded as a recreational activity, but it may also be pathological and cause serious damage to the gambler’s life and family. In the United States, gambling is illegal in most places and highly regulated in those where it is legal. Regardless of the legal status of gambling, most people gamble for enjoyment, with amounts they can afford to lose, and in moderation.

Some forms of gambling are purely random, and the outcome of a game is determined by pure chance; this is often called “pure” or “true” gambling. Other games of chance involve a degree of skill, such as card playing, keno, and horse racing, which can reduce the element of luck and increase the chances of winning.

A significant number of individuals who engage in these activities do so compulsively, and the severity of their problem can be measured (Volberg, 1998). The majority of these individuals are classified as pathological gamblers by psychiatrists, but it is possible that a small percentage have problems that fall short of a diagnosis because they do not meet the DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling. It is also possible that some of the individuals who engage in this behavior have been pathological gamblers at one time in their lives but are now recovering from this condition.

Other causes of gambling problems include:

Problems in childhood or adolescence may be the result of genetic predisposition and/or environment. The presence of family members with a history of gambling problems increases the likelihood of a person developing such a problem. Gender is a factor: men are more likely to develop a gambling problem than women; however, as with any other addiction, both men and women can become compulsive gamblers.

The frequency and intensity of gambling-related problems varies from person to person, and the impact of these problems on society is likewise variable. Some individuals may only be concerned with a single type of gambling, and some may feel the need to be secretive about their gambling habits or lie about how much they gamble. Others feel the need to place progressively higher bets, trying to win back money lost, and may have a tendency to engage in binge gambling sessions.

Psychiatric experts have debated whether or not gambling is an addiction, and there is a general consensus that it is no more than an impulse control disorder (Lord and Rosenthal, 1994). Some scholars are concerned about the association between pathological gambling and substance abuse, but there is no evidence of a causal relationship between these two disorders, and other psychiatric classification systems do not use the term addiction to describe gambling behavior.

Many people who struggle with problem gambling are affected by underlying mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. These disorders can both trigger or make worse gambling-related problems, and they can have long-term financial and personal impacts on the gambler and their family.