Causes of Gambling Disorders

Gambling is risking something of value, on an activity involving a significant element of chance, with the expectation of winning something else of value. It has existed in virtually all societies since prerecorded history and has been incorporated into local customs, rites of passage, and games. Today, it is estimated that some $10 trillion is legally wagered worldwide each year. While pro-gambling forces abound, strong anti-gambling movements have emerged that emphasize gambling’s role in poverty and crime.

In the United States, there are many forms of gambling: three-card monte shell games and roulette are found in urban settings and appeal to adult Caucasians; cockfights and pit bull fights are popular among adult African Americans and Hispanics; shooting marbles or pitching pennies for a prize, or buying packs of Pokemon cards, is mostly a youth-based activity; and horse races are prevalent in most states and attract a wide range of participants. Gambling can take place in casinos, racetracks, and on the Internet.

While most people gamble without any problems, a subset develops pathological gambling disorder, described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as persistent, recurrent, problematic gaming behavior that results in significant distress or impairment. Understanding the causes of gambling disorders may help clinicians better recognize them and offer effective treatment. For example, research has shown that some people are biologically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity. These factors can affect how they process reward information, control impulses, and weigh risk.