Gambling Disorder

Gambling involves placing a bet on something of value in the hope of winning something else of value. It is often viewed as a low risk high reward entertainment choice, although the truth is that it carries significant financial risks. It can also have other negative consequences including family and work problems. A small proportion of people who gamble develop gambling disorder, a mental health condition that can cause significant distress and impairment in their lives.

A new longitudinal study has found that young people who regularly gamble are at a greater risk of having a range of serious problems, including mental health issues and social isolation. The findings are published in the journal Addiction. The study compared data from the national youth cohort ALSPAC, with information on gambling behaviour collected at three time points from participants aged 16-24. The results show that rates of gambling increased between the ages of 17 and 24 years, but this variation was largely driven by changes in online gambling. The research team used multiple imputation techniques to minimize the bias caused by attrition, but it is likely that the patterns observed still underestimated the true prevalence of regular gambling. The researchers also tried to explore a variety of individual and family factors that might be associated with gambling behaviour, but these were only marginally significant. The most consistent associations were with lower IQ and impulsivity, and the tendency to perceive oneself as having a low external locus of control.

The study reveals that some groups are particularly at risk of developing gambling problems, including those with a history of trauma or childhood abuse. It also suggests that gambling disorder tends to run in families and can begin at a very early age, in some cases in adolescence. Moreover, it is more common in males than in females.

A number of steps can be taken to reduce the temptation to gamble and prevent it from becoming an addiction. These include talking about the problem with a trusted friend or family member, reducing the use of credit cards and other forms of easy access to money, having someone in charge of household finances, closing online betting accounts and keeping only a limited amount of cash on hand. Those who have had a gambling problem can also find support by joining a peer group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also a number of therapeutic approaches to treating gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Some of these therapies may be offered by the NHS. Alternatively, many private clinics provide support for people with gambling disorders. Some of these offer specialist help for children and adolescents with a gambling problem, while others specialise in treating adults. They all aim to help the person with a gambling problem think through their options and find a way forward. This could be through counselling, education or other means.