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Pathological Gambling

Gambling involves risking something of value, such as money or property, on an activity that is primarily chance with the intent of winning something else of value. It is an activity that has been present in virtually every society since prerecorded history. It has been incorporated into local customs, traditions, and rites of passage throughout the world. While most people gamble for entertainment, a small percentage become so involved in the activity that it negatively affects their personal and social functioning and causes them to experience a variety of adverse consequences. This behavior is known as pathological gambling.

It is a behavioral disorder, and, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it includes 10 warning signs that a person may be developing a compulsive gambling problem: (1) he or she makes repeated attempts to win back losses; (2) the urge to gamble increases despite negative consequences; (3) the gambler lies to family members, therapists, and others to conceal the extent of his or her involvement in gambling; (4) he or she spends a great deal of time thinking about gambling; (5) he or she has committed illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, or theft, in order to finance gambling activities; and (6) he or she jeopardizes or loses a relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.

In recent times, the prevalence of gambling disorders has increased. This can be attributed to several factors, including: (1) the growth of casino gaming and online casinos; (2) an economic climate that places an emphasis on profit and less on human resources; and (3) technological advances that make gambling easier and more accessible. Moreover, the 18-29 age group is particularly susceptible to developing gambling problems. This is because the brain continues to mature until about the age of 25. In addition, this age group is more likely to exhibit reckless behavior in general, making them more likely to develop bad habits while gambling.

The amount of money legally wagered on gambling activities worldwide is approximately $10 trillion a year, though the total number of people who gamble is much higher due to legal and illegal activities that are not recorded. While the majority of individuals who participate in gambling are not compelled to continue the behavior, some individuals develop serious problems that can lead to financial ruin, loss of friendships, and family discord. In some cases, these individuals also develop psychological symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, that are not related to gambling but can be exacerbated by it.

Although the term “disordered gambling” is not currently included in any of the editions of the DSM published by the American Psychiatric Association, it appears to be a useful way to conceptualize the spectrum of gambling behaviors that range from those with minimal impact on a person’s life to those that meet the criteria for the diagnosis of pathological gambling. Research in this area is ongoing.

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