Gambling during this season.

Gambling addiction is a prevalent issue in the UK today and rates have increased across the pandemic, especially amongst younger people[1]. It has recently been recognised as a serious mental illness, as brain imaging shows the neural reward pathways that are formed, similar to those seen in alcohol and drug addiction[2]. The seriousness of the illness can also be seen in the disastrous effects it can have on one’s life, including relationship issues, job loss and bankruptcy, all of which increase suicide risk[3].

Diagnosing Gambling Addiction (DSM V) (APA, 2013)

The diagnostic and statistical manual for diseases (DSM V) diagnoses ‘gambling disorder’ according to whether the individual exhibits four (or more) of the following symptoms in a 12-month period:

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Causes and Risk Factors:

  • Gambling Environment: Seeing others, especially parents and friends gambling normalises the act and increases the risk of addiction[4]
  • Advertising: Despite being regulated by the Gambling Commission, restrictions on advertising in the UK are evidently still questionable as gambling advertising has steadily been rising since the commission was founded in 2005. This has a particularly harmful effect on young people and vulnerable adults and the sheer quantity of advertising serves to normalise gambling[5].
  • Personality traits: Being anxious, neurotic or impulsive can increase risk of any addiction, including gambling[6]
  • Gender: Men are more at risk of gambling addiction than women, however this gap is smaller than assumed and is shrinking. Recent research shows that women’s gambling addiction is an increasingly prevalent issue that is not recognised and is often hidden[7]
  • Other mental illnesses: Comorbid illnesses such as anxiety, personality disorders and ADHD all increase the risk of gambling addiction[8]


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is highly effective in treating gambling addiction, involving a therapist working with the client to replace irrational thoughts and behaviours with more considerate and realistic cognitions and decisions[9].
  • Medication: Antidepressants and mood stabilisers can be effective in reducing impulsive behaviours, particularly if the client has a dual diagnosis with another mental illness such as depression or anxiety[10]
  • Group therapy: This may involve talking amongst a group with similar issues. Opening up about your problems and sharing common experiences can be very helpful and supportive contacts and friendships can be built from these meetings.
  • Family Therapy: Working with patient and their family can be key in identifying why they gamble and the harm it does to their family. Family understanding the illness and actions that they can take to help also aids in recovery.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.

[1] Emond, A., Nairn, A., Collard, S., & Hollén, L. (2022). Gambling by young adults in the UK during COVID-19 lockdown. Journal of Gambling Studies, 38(1), 1-13.

[2] Murch, W. S., & Clark, L. (2016). Games in the brain: neural substrates of gambling addiction. The Neuroscientist, 22(5), 534-545.

[3] Andreeva, M., Audette-Chapdelaine, S., & Brodeur, M. (2022). Gambling-Related completed suicides: a scoping review. Addiction Research & Theory, 1-12.

[4] McComb, J. L., & Sabiston, C. M. (2010). Family influences on adolescent gambling behavior: A review of the literature. Journal of gambling studies, 26(4), 503-520.

[5] Newall, P. W. (2017). Behavioral complexity of British gambling advertising. Addiction Research & Theory, 25(6), 505-511.

[6] Mehroof, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2010). Online gaming addiction: The role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety, and trait anxiety. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 13(3), 313-316.

[7] Castrén, S., Heiskanen, M., & Salonen, A. H. (2018). Trends in gambling participation and gambling severity among Finnish men and women: cross-sectional population surveys in 2007, 2010 and 2015. BMJ open, 8(8), e022129.

[8] Walther, B., Morgenstern, M., & Hanewinkel, R. (2012). Co-occurrence of addictive behaviours: personality factors related to substance use, gambling and computer gaming. European addiction research, 18(4), 167-174.

[9] Bodor, D., Ricijaš, N., & Filipcic, I. (2021). Treatment of gambling disorder: review of evidence-based aspects for best practice. Current opinion in psychiatry, 34(5), 508-513.

[10] Lupi, M., Martinotti, G., Acciavatti, T., Pettorruso, M., Brunetti, M., Santacroce, R., … & Di Giannantonio, M. (2014). Pharmacological treatments in gambling disorder: a qualitative review. BioMed research international, 2014.

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