What Causes Gambling Disorders?

A person gambles when they stake something of value, such as money or a prize ticket, against an outcome that is determined by chance. They hope to win by correctly predicting the result of an event, such as a football match or a scratchcard.

Gambling is a risky activity that can lead to addiction and other problems. It is important to understand the risks associated with gambling so that you can avoid them. In addition, it is helpful to know what triggers a person to gamble and how to help them stop gambling when it becomes problematic.

Several factors can cause people to develop a gambling disorder, including:

Genetics. Gambling disorders are more common in people with close relatives who have them. Family members can also help by setting limits on how much money their loved one spends and refusing to lend them any more money.

Environment. People with a gambling disorder often grow up in an environment where gambling is common, for example in a casino, racetrack or bingo hall. They may be exposed to advertising, stories about people who have won large sums of money and images of glamorous casinos or beautiful vacation destinations. In addition, some people have preexisting mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression that can be triggered by gambling.

The reward center of the brain is a big part of why gambling can be so addictive. When a person wins, their brain releases dopamine, which is the same chemical that is released when they exercise or eat a healthy meal. Similarly, when people are successful in an endeavor such as playing a game of basketball or singing a song well, their brains release dopamine to reinforce the positive feeling and encourage them to keep practicing.

For some, gambling provides a way to escape from daily life or to feel more connected with other people. They can also experience a rush of adrenaline when they place a bet and the outcome is favorable, which can make them want to continue gambling. In addition, gambling can provide a sense of status and social standing because people who go to casinos are often seen as special and unique.

Some people develop gambling disorders because they have trouble managing their emotions or coping with stress. For them, it becomes a way to cope with difficult feelings, but this only leads to more stress in the long run. In addition, a person with a gambling disorder often has difficulty stopping their behavior even when it causes them to lose money or hurt their family and friends.

In the U.S., the FDA hasn’t approved any medications to treat gambling disorders, but psychotherapy can be very effective for some people. During psychotherapy, a person is treated by a licensed mental health professional with the goal of changing unhealthy emotions and behaviors. This can include learning ways to handle stress and finding other activities to do with their time, as well as addressing any other mental health conditions that may be contributing to their gambling problems.