Does Gambling Cause Mood Disorders?


Gambling is betting something of value on a game of chance or an uncertain event with awareness of risk and in the hope of gain. It ranges from lottery tickets bought by people with little money to the sophisticated casino gambling of those who have much. It may be legal or illegal, for profit or as a pastime. People may be skillful or unskilled at gambling and it can have negative financial, social and psychological impacts. It is often a hidden addiction and may be triggered by underlying mood disorders such as depression, anxiety or stress.

The understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone profound change over time and this is reflected, or at least stimulated by, the changing clinical classification and description of pathological gambling in various editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders called DSM (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, 1994). It is no longer viewed as just a game of chance; rather, it is seen as a mental illness like alcoholism.

It has been a common assumption that only those who gamble knowingly develop gambling problems. However, there is evidence that a substantial number of people who gamble do not knowingly develop problems. There is also evidence that some people who are not considered to be pathological gamblers do not have gambling problems, either because they do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling or because their problems are relatively minor and/or infrequent.

There is no one answer to this question as it is likely that some people are more susceptible than others to developing a gambling problem. Nonetheless, it is known that certain factors are associated with the development of gambling problems and these include age, family history, ethnicity, medical history and economic status. People who start gambling at a young age are also at greater risk for developing problems.

Some people use gambling as a way to escape from their problems and this can be a coping mechanism. It is important to understand this and not to judge a loved one for putting their lives on hold while they gamble. They may be doing it for a variety of reasons such as to forget their worries, to feel self-confident or because they are feeling nervous or depressed. If your loved one is struggling to stop gambling, seek help for underlying mood disorders. These can be triggered or made worse by compulsive gambling and can have long-term psychological, financial and social impacts. These can be difficult to overcome without help. Those who have serious problems with gambling may be in need of residential treatment and rehabilitation programs. These can be inpatient, residential or outpatient programs and will typically involve round-the-clock support. There are a range of organisations that provide these services. Contact the relevant organisations for more information. Some services may be able to provide payment assistance. You can find a list of these organisations in the resource section.