Gambling is the risking of something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the intention of winning something else of value. It includes the wagering of money, goods, or services and the granting of prizes. The concept of gambling is generally used to refer to the act of placing a bet, but it can also include other activities such as playing games like lottery or scratch-off tickets, sports betting, and office pooling.
Throughout history, people have been able to earn a living, either honest or dishonestly, by engaging in gambling activities. However, gambling has also been a major source of conflict and has been widely suppressed by law. Today, there is a great deal of public concern about the potential for gambling to lead to criminal activity and other social problems.
The term “gambling disorder” is used to describe the range of problematic gambling behaviors, from those that are subclinical and may not meet diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling (DSM-IV), to those that would qualify as a diagnosable disorder. A diagnosis of gambling disorder should not be confused with an addiction to gambling. Addiction to gambling is an underlying condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including comorbid conditions such as anxiety or depression and is treated with a combination of therapies.
A key goal of gambling research is to better understand the mechanisms that underlie problematic gambling behaviors. In order to do this, longitudinal studies are essential, but there are many practical barriers to conducting such studies: obtaining funding for a large and multiyear study; recruiting and maintaining research staff over the course of a long period of time; preventing a decline in participant retention; and dealing with confounding factors (e.g., aging and period effects).
Another goal of gambling research is to develop treatments for problem gambling. Various types of therapies are available, and some are more effective than others. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective treatment for problem gambling, and a number of medications are available as well. Inpatient and residential treatments are available for individuals with severe problems who require round-the-clock care. In addition, family and marital therapy can help address the specific issues that may have triggered or made worse by a gambling disorder. In addition, career and credit counseling can help individuals repair damaged relationships and rebuild their financial stability. A comprehensive approach to treating problem gambling involves all of these components. Integrated treatments, however, have had only modest success and may not be as effective as newer hybrid treatments that combine elements of multiple approaches to treatment. In the future, it will be important to identify and target the most promising therapeutic interventions. Ideally, these will be based on an empirical foundation rather than on eclectic theoretic conceptualizations of pathological gambling. This will help reduce the barriers to future progress in this area. Longitudinal studies of gambling behavior are critical to this effort.