Pathological Gambling


Gambling involves risking something of value (typically money) on an event involving chance and the hope of winning. It includes betting on card games, fruit machines and slots, football accumulators and horse races, as well as lottery tickets, instant scratch cards and bingo. It can also involve speculating on business, insurance or the stock market.

Pathological gambling (PG) is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors. It typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common among males than females. PG is often difficult to treat and may recur even after successful treatment.

Research on PG has focused on understanding the factors that lead to relapse. There is also growing interest in longitudinal studies that track individuals over long periods of time. This kind of study has many benefits, including the ability to detect relapse and to measure changes in the underlying mechanisms that drive gambling behavior.

Despite the benefits of longitudinal studies, practical and logistical barriers make them challenging to mount. These include the massive funding needed for a multiyear commitment, problems with team continuity and sample attrition over long time periods, and the knowledge that longitudinal data confound aging and period effects (e.g., is a person’s sudden interest in gambling due to a new casino opening or because they turned 18?).

Despite these barriers, there are some promising developments. Research on relapse prevention is advancing and some innovative treatments are showing promise. Ultimately, the most important thing is for people to take control of their gambling. They can do this by setting limits on how much they will gamble and for how long, and not chasing losses. They should also avoid relying on drugs and alcohol to help them manage their gambling.

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