Understanding the Causes of Gambling


Gambling involves betting something of value on a random event with the hope of winning a prize. It ranges from scratchcards and lottery tickets bought by people living on low incomes to the sophisticated casino gambling of the rich who play for a profit or for entertainment. It is a dangerous activity that can cause psychological distress, interfere with relationships and work performance, impoverish families, lead to crime and even suicide. It is also a significant source of social inequality, with people from poorer backgrounds more likely to develop a problem than those from wealthier ones.

Traditional theories attribute pathological gambling behavior to personal psychological factors. Psychologists and psychiatrists typically explain that the majority of gamblers are vulnerable due to a history of trauma, family problems or lack of discipline or education. In addition, the onset of pathological gambling is often associated with specific events in the individual’s life, such as a death of a loved one or divorce.

More recently, a growing body of research has considered the wider socio-cultural and economic environment in which gambling takes place. This new understanding of the causes of problem gambling is similar to the way we now think about the causes of alcoholism, and it may help to inform strategies for prevention and treatment.

In fact, the majority of people who engage in gambling do so responsibly. It is those who are most at risk for developing a problem that should be targeted with more specific interventions. This includes those with low incomes who tend to have more to lose than gain, and young men and boys, who are more likely to develop a gambling disorder than women.

Those with the most severe problem gambling are those who engage in risky behaviors, such as betting more than they can afford to lose or spending money they have saved for other purposes, such as school fees or rent. These individuals should be referred to specialist services for help, such as inpatient or residential treatment and recovery programs.

To keep gambling as an enjoyable form of entertainment, it is important to budget for the activity and only gamble with disposable income. It is also helpful to learn healthy coping skills and find healthier ways to relieve boredom and stress, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a hobby or practice relaxation techniques. Another useful step is to never chase your losses – this thinking that you’re “due” for a win and will recoup your money is known as the “gambler’s fallacy.” Instead, it is better to walk away from the table, and only return when you have set aside a certain amount of money that you can comfortably afford to lose. It is also worth considering joining a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous.