Causes of Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves a wager on an activity that is primarily based on chance in the hopes of realizing a profit. It is an activity that has existed in virtually every society since prerecorded history and is reflected in local customs, traditions, and rites of passage. Gambling is also a prominent feature of the human imagination, as evidenced by the mythology of the Greeks who believed that Aphrodite gambled on knucklebones (known as astragals) with her lover Pan. The human need to risk things of value has driven a cycle of excessive gambling, with its attendant negative personal, social, and financial consequences.

Although the vast majority of individuals gamble for pleasure, a small group of people engage in pathological gambling behaviors that have severe adverse personal, social, and financial consequences. The term “disordered gambling” is used to describe behavior that ranges from those behaviors that place individuals at high risk for developing more serious problems to those that meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) diagnosis of pathological gambling.

The causes of pathological gambling are complex. Many factors may contribute to a person’s susceptibility to problem gambling, such as genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and social pressures to gamble. Several types of therapy can help to treat gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and family therapy. These therapies can help a person understand their reasons for gambling and learn healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings and boredom.

Most researchers have focused on studying the relationships between the environment, individual risk-taking, and gambling behavior. The environmental factors that have been most studied include a family history of gambling, a lack of social support, the presence of peers who gamble, and the presence of friends or relatives with gambling problems. However, there is little consensus among research groups regarding the relationship between these factors and gambling behavior.

Another factor that has contributed to the expansion of gambling in the United States is the economic and social upheavals that took place during the 1930s, when a greater emphasis was placed on money, business became rooted in “the bottom line,” and people began to spend more time at work and away from home.

Gambling can be conducted in many different ways, from placing a bet on a horse race or slot machine to buying lottery tickets or playing poker. Some forms of gambling are illegal, and individuals convicted of criminal charges related to gambling can face fines or even prison time. In some cases, probation terms may be imposed that require a person to participate in a gambling treatment program or stop gambling altogether. This type of counseling is available through community health centers and private practice counselors. A person who is on probation for a gambling offense may be required to attend therapy and report to a supervisor. The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the offender follows the terms of the probation agreement.

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