Gambling involves placing a wager on the outcome of a game or event, such as a card game, roulette wheel, slot machine, sporting event or the lottery. The fundamental principle is the risking of something of value with the hope of winning something of greater value. Once referred to as compulsive or pathological gambling, gambling disorder is characterized by a persistent need to bet on an outcome to a degree that causes significant disruption of one’s personal life, relationships or job, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is the handbook of psychiatric disorders used by mental health clinicians.
Gambling is an incredibly popular pastime. An October 2014 report by the American Gaming Association found that the casino gaming industry alone contributes $240 billion to the U.S. economy (and that doesn’t include online gambling). More than 75% of adults in the U.S. will gamble at least once in their lifetime; the vast majority will do so without becoming addicted. However, about 1% will develop a gambling addiction, betting with growing urgency and placing larger and larger bets to offset or recoup losses, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. While many casual gamblers will attempt to win back what they’ve lost, those with the disorder do so to a much more serious degree, engaging in this “chasing” behavior frequently and over long periods of time. Someone with an addiction to gambling may attempt to minimize or hide the extent of the problem to loved ones, as well as borrow money or even steal to cover losses.
It’s important to make the distinction between professional gambling and an addiction to gambling. Professional gamblers are disciplined and pay close attention to the ways in which they can limit their risk, whereas people with gambling disorder simply don’t have that level of self-control.