Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves risking something of value (such as money or possessions) on an event that is based on chance, with the intention of winning something else of value. This type of wagering includes games of chance such as the roll of a dice, the spin of a roulette wheel, or the outcome of a horse race; it also includes bets on future contingent events not under the gambler’s control or influence, such as the winner of a sports contest. Exceptions to this definition of gambling include bona fide business transactions that are valid under contract law, such as purchasing or selling securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health and accident insurance (see also betting).

The term ‘gambling’ can be used to describe any activity in which someone wagers something of value on an uncertain event, whether the result is known at the time the bet is placed or not. This activity may be illegal in some areas and is often associated with negative social consequences. For example, it can damage a person’s health, relationships, work or study performance, cause financial difficulty and even lead to homelessness. Problem gambling is an addictive behaviour that negatively impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. It can also have a negative impact on the wellbeing of their family and friends.

There are a range of organisations that offer support, assistance and counselling to people who have a gambling disorder, and their family and friends. These services are aimed at helping people to control their gambling, or to stop gambling altogether. Some services are telephone helplines or online, while others provide face-to-face and residential treatment and rehabilitation. Some of these programs involve a combination of individual and group therapy, and family counselling.

Psychiatrists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, including those that affect the way a person thinks, feels or behaves. Historically, the psychiatric community has regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. This has changed over time, and in May of 2015, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling to the Addictions chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.

The nomenclature of gambling-related disorders is complex because there are many different perspectives. For example, researchers, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians frame problems with gambling differently, depending on their disciplinary training and area of specialisation. It is therefore important that there is a common vocabulary for describing these conditions so that different groups can communicate effectively. This is especially important in the development of new treatments for gambling problems. Despite the complexities of gambling terminology, there are some basic concepts that are widely recognised in the field. These are:

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