Although most adults and adolescents have gambled, only a small percentage develop pathological gambling (PG), which is characterized by persistent, recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that cause significant distress or impairment. Those with the most severe gambling problems, who meet criteria for PG in DSM-5, often begin at a young age and tend to start out with nonstrategic forms of gambling, such as playing bingo or buying lottery or scratch tickets. Men develop PG at a slightly higher rate than women and are more likely to experience a problem with face-to-face gambling, such as blackjack or poker.
People who have a gambling addiction may turn to gambling as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings or relieve boredom. However, there are healthier and more effective ways to do this, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. If you’re concerned about a loved one who is gambling too much, try to talk with them and encourage them to seek help.
Some communities consider gambling to be a normal pastime, which can make it difficult for people to recognize a problem and get treatment. This is especially true for those in cultures that place a high value on gambling and may view it as a morally acceptable activity. In addition, some studies suggest that genetics or the environment can contribute to a person’s vulnerability for gambling disorders. These include a predisposition for thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity, as well as impaired cognitive functions that affect judgment and decision making.