Gambling is the act of risking something of value (money, property, reputation) on an event with a uncertain outcome. People gamble for fun, to try their luck, or even to make money. However, gambling is not for everyone. It can cause serious problems for individuals, families and society. For some, it becomes an addictive behavior that leads to severe consequences such as debt, family breakdown, homelessness and even suicide. Problem gambling affects physical and mental health, relationships with friends and family, work or study performance and can lead to financial ruin.
The earliest evidence of gambling is from ancient China: tiles have been unearthed that appear to be from a rudimentary lottery-type game. In the modern world, it’s possible to place bets online, over the telephone or in person at a casino or betting shop. It can be legal or illegal, depending on the state and its laws.
Research shows that many people have some form of problem gambling, which is called pathological gambling (PG). PG is a behavioral disorder characterized by maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that cause significant distress or impairment in daily functioning. The symptoms of PG include: (1) lying to family members, friends, or therapists about the extent of one’s involvement in gambling; (2) preoccupation with or compulsive thoughts about gambling; (3) a persistent desire to gamble despite negative consequences, including feelings of guilt, anxiety, or depression; (4) a need for more and more gambling to feel satisfied; (5) an urge to “chase” losses by increasing the amount of money wagered; (6) risking or using assets or income to finance gambling, or committing illegal acts to do so; and (7) jeopardizing important personal or professional relationships as a result of a need to gamble. Symptoms can begin as early as adolescence and may progress over time.
Researchers have found that there are a number of effective treatment strategies for PG. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy. These therapies help patients learn to identify and challenge irrational beliefs, such as the idea that a string of losses signifies an imminent win. They also learn to replace the compulsion to gamble with healthier, more productive activities.
Research on the social and economic effects of gambling is best conducted using a longitudinal design. This type of study allows the investigator to track participants over a period of years to better understand the onset and maintenance of problem gambling. It is particularly useful for identifying factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s gambling participation, because it is possible to infer causality over time. A longitudinal study also provides an opportunity for researchers to analyze whether specific treatments are effective for a particular group of individuals.