Is Gambling a Mental Illness?

Gambling May 27, 2024

Over the last 20 years or so, researchers have refined their understanding of gambling. It’s now believed that it is a mental illness, affecting around 4% of people treated for substance use disorders and 7% of psychiatric inpatients. It’s also a problem for people who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, and those with poor impulse control. People who spend too much time gambling can be at risk of developing other addictions and disorders, including alcoholism, which can be more common in older people.

Gambling is a form of betting that involves placing money or something of value on the outcome of a random event, such as a lottery draw, a card game or a horse race. It can be done legally or illegally. It can be for fun, for social reasons, to win money or as a way to escape problems or boredom. Some gambling activities involve skill, such as learning to count cards or study patterns or numbers, but the majority of games are completely random and there is no known way to predict their outcome.

People who have an urge to gamble may feel rewarded often enough that they keep going, even when they are losing. Research has shown that this is because gambling stimulates the release of dopamine, which affects brain areas like those involved in reward and pleasure.