Gambling involves betting money or something else of value on an event whose outcome depends on chance. This can include games like slot machines and roulette, or activities such as playing bingo, participating in a sports pool, or buying lottery tickets. The gambler hopes to win a prize, which could be anything from a small amount of money to a life-changing jackpot.
People with a gambling problem are obsessed with the activity and can’t control their behavior. The addiction interferes with their physical and emotional health, relationships, school or work performance, and finances. They may even end up in trouble with the law or homelessness.
The earliest stage of a gambling addiction is when the person starts to experience problems controlling their behavior and deciding whether to continue. They may also be lying to others about their involvement in the activity. They often gamble to cope with unpleasant feelings, including loneliness and boredom, or to relieve stress or anxiety. They become preoccupied with thoughts about gambling and are restless or irritable when trying to control or stop the behavior.
The DSM-5 removed the illegal activity criterion from pathological gambling, recognizing that it is an addictive disorder that can be treated just like any other substance or behavioral addiction. It is estimated that about 4% of adults have a pathological gambling disorder. It is more common in men than women, and it usually develops during adolescence or early adulthood. It is associated with depression, and studies have shown that depressive symptoms frequently precede or follow pathological gambling.