The Biology of Gambling


Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event. In addition to the chance element, it is common for gambling to involve skill, and some forms of gambling require that a bettor have specific knowledge in order to increase their chances of winning.

While there are many reasons that people gamble, some people develop a problem with gambling. Whether it be an addiction to the thrill of winning or to the socialisation and escape from daily life, this can have serious consequences for their mental health. If you are struggling with a gambling problem it is important to seek help and there are a variety of treatments available including medication, psychotherapy, self-help groups and support for families.

The act of gambling involves risking money on the outcome of an uncertain event – this could be anything from a football match to a scratchcard. Each choice a bettor makes is matched to a set of odds, which determine how much money he or she may win if the event happens to turn out as predicted. The odds are determined by a combination of factors including the bettor’s level of skill, the likelihood of other players choosing the same option, and a host of other random events.

In the past, psychiatric scientists and psychiatrists viewed pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder. However, in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), pathological gambling has been moved to the chapter on addictions. This move reflects a growing recognition that the biology of gambling is similar to that of substance-related disorders and is associated with the same psychological, neurological and physiological symptoms.

Unlike drugs, which have been proven to cause direct physical damage, gambling products can cause a number of psychological symptoms, including an inability to control one’s spending and the use of escape coping strategies. These can include seeking status and specialness – a principle that is firmly established in casinos, where VIP lounges and other perks are designed to lure people into the premises. Often, these problems are compounded by depression and boredom, which can trigger an increased desire to escape through gambling. A cycle of losses and wins is then established, leading to further loss and more stress. This can lead to a complete loss of control and the need for treatment becomes more urgent. This is why it’s important to budget your gambling, treat it like a form of entertainment and never use it as a way to make money. If you have a problem with gambling, contact a therapist and consider psychodynamic therapy to help you understand how unconscious processes can affect your behaviour. You can also find support in a self-help group for families such as Gam-Anon. Finally, exercise and self-care can help reduce your urge to gamble. By using these tips, you can learn how to overcome your addiction and regain control of your finances.