There is almost no adult who hasn’t gambled at least once, whether on election results, world championship competitions, or other sports games and the like. Many people have tried their luck buying a lottery ticket, during the occasional visit to a casino or at card games with friends. In fact, any friendly bet for a meal or a small amount of money is considered gambling.

Gambling is a type of risk-taking that usually generates pleasure and excitement. In most cases, the experience provides entertainment, but there are other motivations for gambling, some of which depend on culture, age and gender. These include the need for control, pride, psychological satisfaction, social recreation, the desire to make money easily, and the desire to compensate for previous gambling losses.

A bit of history

  Gambling is one of the oldest recreational games in the world. There is evidence of games of chance, lotteries and betting in many ancient cultures, including in China, Rome and ancient Egypt. But it wasn’t until the 17th century in Europe that gambling houses, later known as casinos, were founded, and, in the 18th century, they became places for legal, harmless entertainment. In 1931, gambling was declared legal in the US state of Nevada, and, shortly thereafter, the city of Las Vegas developed into the world’s gambling capital. In 1977, Atlantic City in the state of New Jersey became another destination for gambling tourism. In 1994, the first online casinos were launched, based in the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. During the 1990s, online gambling became popular and the number of websites for games of chance increased accordingly. In many countries around the world, including Israel, gambling houses and casinos are prohibited by law. However, there are many other countries in which they are a legal and vibrant part of the economy. According to various estimates, the gambling industry generates hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue worldwide.  

Is it possible to become addicted to gambling?

  The latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association's official diagnostic manual (DSM-5) classifies addiction to gambling as a disorder (gambling disorder, GD). Gambling disorder is the first behavioral addiction to be officially recognized. This was done because the effects of gambling on the brain, the existence of withdrawal symptoms, and the clinical characteristics of people with GD (such as comorbid psychiatric disorders) are similar to those observed in people with drug and alcohol addictions. According to the DSM-5, in order to diagnose gambling disorder, four of the following must have occurred over a 12-month period:

  Gambling disorder, according to its medical definition, is characterized by repetitive and recurrent behavior that causes significant problems or distress. As with various substance addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol, one of the signs of addiction is the inability to stop gambling, even when this behavior inflicts significant harm on important spheres of a person’s life, including the economic, social, interpersonal and emotional spheres. Other symptoms and expressions of gambling addiction include increased preoccupation with gambling, the urge to gamble using increasing amounts of money in order to experience the same excitement, and attempts to deny or lie about one’s gambling.  

What are the adverse health effects of gambling?

 Mental effects: Anxiety, depression, guilt and helplessness, which can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. Gambling addiction can also sometimes lead to drug and alcohol abuse. Physical effects: The stress and anxiety experienced by those addicted to gambling can manifest in trouble sleeping, fluctuations in appetite and weight, restlessness and irritability. Personal, social, and familial effects: In the long run, gambling addiction can bring about marital and family difficulties due to its disastrous economic effects, attempts to hide the problems caused by gambling, and tensions caused by taking loans from family members. The economic distress can lead to certain lifestyle changes, including increased risk-taking and interaction with “gray market” loan sharks and criminal elements. Gambling addiction is sometimes associated with other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and other personality disorders, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

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