Gambling and Mood Disorders


Gambling occurs when someone stakes something of value, usually money, on an event whose outcome is largely uncertain. It can occur in casinos, on racetracks, at sporting events, and over the Internet. Some people are more likely to become compulsive gamblers, including those who have a family history of the disorder. Compulsive gambling can be costly, affecting physical health, relationships, work or school performance, and causing debt. In extreme cases, it can lead to homelessness. Treatment for gambling disorders can include counseling, support from family and friends, and medications that treat co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

Many studies have linked gambling with mood disorders. However, results are mixed as to whether depressive symptoms precede or follow the onset of gambling. Research is under way to determine the direction of this relationship.

Some studies have shown that gambling behavior is influenced by personality, motivational, and cognitive factors. Theoretical approaches, such as Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking and Cloninger’s Theory of Interrelated Needs, suggest that people may take risks for the rewards of arousal and novelty.

Another factor that influences gambling behavior is social influence. Some researchers have found that the presence of a friend or family member who has a gambling problem can increase a person’s risk of developing a problem themselves. Other studies have found that the presence of a spouse or other close family members can help to reduce the risk of gambling.

The type of gambling activity can vary as well. It can be as simple as betting on a football match or as complex as purchasing a scratchcard. When gambling, a person must first decide on what they want to bet on. This choice is matched to odds, which are set by the betting company and indicate how much money they can win if they win.

Once a bet is placed, the player must then hope that their chosen team or machine will win. When they do, their brain releases dopamine, which makes them feel good. When they lose, their brain releases cortisol, which can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, or depression. These negative emotions can make it difficult to stop gambling.

Although some individuals can stop gambling on their own, others need more help. A therapist can provide insight into the person’s motivation to gamble and teach them strategies to resist temptation. In severe cases, there are inpatient or residential treatment programs that can provide round-the-clock monitoring and support to help a person overcome a gambling addiction.