Gambling and Its Psychological Effects

Gambling involves placing something of value, typically money, on an event with a chance element (such as a game of cards, roulette wheel, instant scratch tickets, horse races or sporting events) with the intent to win a prize. In some instances, gambling can also take place with items that have a monetary value but do not represent actual cash (for example, marbles, Pogs, or collectible trading card games).

The psychological effects of gambling are well documented. Winning bets trigger a release of the feel-good hormone dopamine, which makes gamblers happy. However, a losing bet can trigger negative feelings such as regret and resentment. In addition, gambling can lead to addiction and even exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Longitudinal studies of gambling are becoming more common but are challenging to conduct. The large financial commitment needed for a multiyear study, difficulties with maintaining research team continuity over a long period of time, the danger that repeated testing of individuals may influence behavior and/or reporting, and the challenge of confounding aging and period effects all make longitudinal gambling research difficult.

If you are struggling with gambling disorder, try to strengthen your support network by reaching out to friends and family members who can offer moral support. In addition, consider joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. You can also seek psychotherapy from a mental health professional who is trained in gambling disorder treatment. Psychodynamic therapy can help you gain insight into how unconscious processes affect your gambling behavior.

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