The Neurobiology and Psychology of Gambling

Gambling is the wagering of something of value, such as money or personal possessions, on an event that involves chance. It can also refer to a game in which skill is involved, but the outcome of that activity depends on random chance. While the majority of people gamble for fun, a small percentage develop an addiction to gambling that can have serious social and financial consequences.

For centuries, humans have been engaged in activities that could be considered gambling. However, as understanding of the adverse effects of gambling has developed, our thinking about this behavior has been transformed. The current view of pathological gambling (PG) encompasses a broad range, from behaviors that place individuals at risk of developing a problem to those that would meet the diagnostic criteria of PG in the fourth edition of the psychiatric manual, commonly known as DSM-IV. This article uses the term disordered gambling to describe this entire range of behaviors.

A growing body of research on the neurobiology and psychology of gambling is helping to elucidate what makes some people vulnerable to problem behaviors, and what helps them overcome those problems when they do arise. In addition to providing new insights into the nature of gambling, this research is enabling scientists to more accurately identify those at risk and to design effective prevention and treatment strategies.

Gambling is a complex topic, and the terminology used to describe it can be confusing. Different groups, such as research scientists, psychiatrists, and other treatment care clinicians, have developed paradigms or world views from which to consider the issues. Those views can frame the ways in which questions are asked and the conclusions drawn.

The most common form of gambling is the use of coins, paper currency, or other objects to determine a winner. Other forms of gambling include betting on horse races, lotteries, and video games in which the outcome is determined by chance rather than by the player’s skill. In these games, the player may win real money, prizes, or virtual goods, which can then be exchanged for cash or other items.

Research has shown that a person’s brain is more likely to develop good and bad habits at certain times in life. For example, young people’s brains are more flexible and responsive to rewards than adults’ brains. Therefore, they are more likely to take risks when it comes to activities such as gambling.

When someone starts to develop a gambling addiction, it is important for family members to help them recognize the issue and get help. This can be done by encouraging them to reach out to their support network and joining a gambling recovery program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. Additionally, a family doctor or psychologist can provide guidance and assistance in coping with the problems that can be associated with gambling. Finally, it is important for a family to establish boundaries in managing money so that they do not end up in debt as a result of an addictive gambling habit.