Problem Gambling – Causes and Treatment of Gambling Disorders


Gambling is an activity in which people place something of value, usually money, on the outcome of an event that has some element of chance. It is a popular pastime and a major international commercial activity, with legalised gambling making up about half of the global market. However, for some people gambling can cause significant harm, including negatively affecting relationships, work or study performance and health. It can also lead to financial difficulties, including being unable to pay bills and debt. In severe cases it can even lead to suicide. People who experience these problems are known as problem gamblers.

A growing number of people are exhibiting symptoms of gambling disorder, an addictive behaviour that can impact on all areas of their life and the lives of those close to them. This includes their physical and mental health, their work or study performances, their relationships and, in some cases, their ability to stay out of trouble with the law. The problem is widespread across the UK, with Public Health England estimating that more than 400 suicides are associated with problem gambling each year.

Various approaches have been developed to understand the causes and treatment of gambling disorders. One way of doing this is to use the concept of disordered gambling, which identifies a range of behaviours from those that may place individuals at risk of developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling (PG).

Another approach is to conduct longitudinal studies. These follow a group of respondents over time to help understand the onset, development and maintenance of both normal and problematic gambling behaviour.

Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles to the conduct of longitudinal gambling research. These include the large investment required for a multiyear project; the difficulty of maintaining a research team and sample over such a long period; and the knowledge that longitudinal data confound aging and period effects (e.g., does a change in someone’s gambling habits simply reflect that they are older, or do they also represent a new pattern of behaviour).

Many people who experience gambling related harm are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma attached to gambling as a ‘vicious’ addiction. As such, it is important that professionals are trained to recognise the signs of gambling related harm and provide appropriate help and support.

If you feel that your own or a family member’s gambling is having a negative impact on your quality of life, then get in touch with us. Our free and confidential support service is available 24/7. Find out more about Gambling