Gambling and Mood Disorders


Gambling involves wagering money or other value on an event with an uncertain outcome. The event can be something as simple as flipping a coin or as complex as a lottery drawing. In all gambling activities, the participants take some risk in exchange for the potential to win more than they wagered.

Almost all countries regulate some form of gambling, although they differ in legality and restrictions. Many people enjoy gambling as a social activity, while others play for real money. In some cases, this results in problems such as debt, addiction, and family conflict. Problem gamblers also often have mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. These disorders can trigger or make worse gambling behavior and may affect the ability to recover from it.

While most adults and adolescents try gambling at some point in their lives, a small number develop an addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines pathological gambling as persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of betting or other types of wagering, resulting in significant distress or impairment. The DSM-5 has reclassified pathological gambling as a behavioral addiction, based on findings that it is similar to substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and treatment.

Longitudinal studies are an important tool for understanding the nature of pathological gambling, but they are difficult to conduct. Several factors make longitudinal research in gambling challenging, including the massive funding required for a multiyear commitment; difficulties in maintaining study team continuity over time; attrition among participants; and the fact that researchers must consider aging and period effects when analyzing data. Despite these challenges, the field of gambling research is progressing, and longitudinal studies are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated.

People who gamble excessively may experience a variety of symptoms, such as lying to friends and family about their gambling habits; downplaying the impact that gambling has on their finances, work, or education; or continuing to gamble even when it causes severe financial and personal problems. Several other factors, such as personality traits and coexisting mood disorders, contribute to the development of gambling problems.

Some people with a gambling problem are able to stop gambling by making lifestyle changes, such as finding other ways to spend their free time or seeking out social opportunities that do not involve betting. Some may also seek counseling. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a term that refers to a wide variety of techniques that help people identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Talk therapy is usually conducted with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. Psychotherapy can be combined with other types of treatment, such as medication or a 12-step program like Gamblers Anonymous.