Gambling and Its Psychological Consequences


Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value (such as money or possessions) in the hope of gaining something of greater value. This activity can take many forms, from card games to sports betting to online casino gambling. Some types of gambling are more socially acceptable than others, but all are based on chance and involve risk.

In addition to putting one’s money on the line, there is a strong psychological component to gambling. Gamblers can experience a variety of emotions, including anxiety and depression, that may interfere with the ability to function in daily life. This may cause problems at home, work or school and can even result in bankruptcy. Problem gambling can also have significant negative effects on family and relationships, and can lead to substance abuse and suicide.

Historically, understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone a profound shift. Whereas, in the past, individuals who experienced such consequences were viewed as gamblers with a problem, today they are considered to have psychological problems. This change has been reflected, or stimulated, by the evolving clinical description of pathological gambling in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Research on the etiology of gambling disorders has found that certain cognitive and motivational biases can distort a person’s perception of the odds of an event occurring, and thereby influence their preference for gambling activities. These include the illusion of control, where a person overestimates the relationship between their action and some uncontrollable outcome; illusory gains; and chasing losses.

Another important factor is the perception that gambling is a legitimate form of entertainment. This is particularly true in societies where there is a tradition of lottery play, or where there is a belief in luck and fate. In addition, a culture’s social structure and the availability of recreational opportunities can contribute to the prevalence of gambling behaviors.

A key challenge is to educate the public about the risks of gambling and the potential for addiction, and to encourage responsible gaming and treatment. In addition to support groups and clinics, there are a number of residential and inpatient programs for those with severe gambling addiction. Other treatments include family therapy, marriage and career counseling, and credit and debt counselling. In addition, some casinos offer free therapy sessions for gamblers, and a few have programs to help children and teens understand the dangers of gambling. A small number of assessment instruments have been developed to assist clinicians in identifying youth who might be at risk for gambling problems. It is also important to raise the age of legal gambling to 21 in order to prevent underage gambling.