Risk Factors for Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves risking something of value (money, property, or other assets) on an uncertain event whose outcome depends on chance. It can be done in any setting, including online. There are many types of gambling, including sports wagering and lottery games. People with a problem with gambling often report that they experience recurrent, maladaptive patterns of behavior that affect their lives in many ways. These include:

Some forms of gambling are not regulated and do not have minimum age requirements. Others, such as horse racing and lotteries, are regulated by state or tribal laws. There are also some forms of gambling that occur in places where they are illegal, such as casino cruise ships and Native American gaming establishments.

When a person gambles, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel excited. This is why you may feel compelled to keep playing, even when you’re losing.

Research has shown that there are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing a gambling disorder. These factors can include:

Genetics and brain structure are other risk factors for pathological gambling. Some people have a gene that increases their reward sensitivity and impulsivity, which can lead to a tendency to seek thrills and take risks. Others have a different way of processing rewards and controlling impulses, which can make them more vulnerable to addictive behaviors.

Several types of psychotherapy can help people with a gambling disorder. These techniques teach people how to handle stress, change unhealthy emotions and thoughts, and practice healthier behaviors. Some of these techniques involve working with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved medications to treat a gambling disorder, but there are some prescription drugs that can help control symptoms of other disorders.