gambling, pathological gambling, gambling addiction
- There are various
definitions of problem gambling. Most of them are based
exclusively on biomedical models, being challenged by other definitions
basing more on social or environmental models. The controversy of
biomedical vs. environmental models is also reflected in the research in
the field of problem gambling. All definitions include references to
harmful consequences (either individual or social) and a popular
definition would be:
Problem gambling is an urge to continuously gamble despite
harmful consequences or a desire to stop.
Severe problem gambling may be diagnosed as pathological gambling if
the gambler meets certain medical (psychiatric) criteria.
Pathological gambling is classified as an impulse control disorder,
with sufferers exhibiting many similarities to those who have substance
Pathological gambling is considered by the American
Psychiatric Association to
be an impulse control
disorder rather than an addiction
(Petry, 2006). However, for the other standards (for
instance, DSM 5.0) pathological gambling is being considered as an
addictive disorder as opposed to an impulse-control
According to many authors, evidence indicates that pathological gambling
is an addiction similar to chemical addiction (Griffiths,
1994; Blanco & al., 2001). It has been seen that
some pathological gamblers have lower levels of norepinephrine than
normal gamblers (Meyer &al. 2004). Other studies
indicated that deficiencies in serotonin might
also contribute to compulsive behavior, including a gambling addiction (Moreno
& al., 1991;
Campbell-Meiklejohn & al., 2011).
According to a study based on neuro-imaging technique, monetary
reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very
similar to that observed in a cocaine addict
receiving an infusion of cocaine (Breiter & al., 2001).
All these facts incline the balance in favor of biomedical models.
Still, the same monetary reward suggests that complexity of the games of
chance in relation with the individual is an element that distinguishes
gambling as a special type of addiction. Other authors pointed out that
social factors are a far more important determinant of gambling behavior
than brain chemicals and they suggest that a social model may be more
useful in understanding the issue (for example, Ocean &
Raylu & Oei, 2004;
Griffiths, 2005; Moscrop, 2011).
These facts incline the balance in favor of social/environmental models.
From non-problem to problem gambling
Not everyone who develops a gambling problem exhibits pathological
criteria, nor do they necessarily have an underlying or contributing
pathology. People with gambling problems fall into three main
categories. 1. “Normal” problem gamblers are people whose entry into
problem gambling is linked to environment and learning. The gambler
does not necessarily have pre-existing psychological problems. 2.
“Emotionally vulnerable” gamblers are people whose entry into
problem gambling results from their difficulty in managing stress or
crisis in their lives. They use gambling as an emotional mask and a
way of avoiding underlying issues and current stresses. 3.
“Biologically based” gamblers are people who have impulse disorders,
and are the most challenging in terms of treatment success (Centre
for Addiction and Mental Health, 2008).
& Nower (2002)
advanced a pathways model that integrates the complex array of
biological, personality, developmental, cognitive, learning theory
and ecological determinants of problem and pathological gambling,
represented through the following schemes, each corresponding to one
the three types of gamblers above:
- The place
and role of mathematics in problem-gambling
is strongly connected to gambling through the mathematical models
underlying any game of chance. Among the branches of mathematics
dealing with these models, Probability Theory and Statistics are the
most important, for providing objective measures and predictions for
the random gaming events, for both gamblers and persons studying
- Games of
chance are developed structurally and physically around abstract
mathematical models, which are their mere essence, and the
applications within these mathematical models represent the premises
of their functionality. For instance, within statistical models, the
house edge is ensured through precise calculations regarding
expected value; if such calculations were not possible, the game
would never run. Since in the research, treatment, and prevention of
problem-gambling we cannot separate the gambler from the game he
plays, it follows that an optimal psychological intervention cannot
disregard mathematics (Barboianu, 2013). Call this
the gambling-math indispensability principle.
- There are
also other mathematical models of games and gambling as a
quantifiable activity besides the statistical & probabilistic
models, which represent the physical systems and processes that make
the games actually function as well as for applications related to
premise is the specificity of the gambling addiction through the
goals of the player. Although addiction is a pathological issue (and
thus a medical one), the existence of the goal of winning (besides
other objective or subjective goals such as reaching a certain
emotional state or filling spare time) distinguishes gambling
addiction from other types of addiction and relates it to
The roles of mathematics in problem gambling correspond to its
potential contributions to all kind of social and psychological
interventions having the goal of minimizing the harmful effects of
problem gambling. We identified three types of potential
contributions that gambling mathematics has in this field:
informative-ethical, didactical-cognitive, and clinical-cognitive;
the last two types reflect in practical contributions to
problem-gambling research, prevention and treatment. These matters
are subject of published, as well as ongoing research.
- Barboianu, C.
(2013). Mathematician's call for interdisciplinary research effort.
International Gambling Studies, 13(3), pp. 430-433.
Blanco, C., Moreyra, P., Nunes, E. V., Saiz-Ruiz,
J., & Ibanez, A. (2001).
gambling: addiction or compulsion?. Seminars in clinical
neuropsychiatry, 6 (3), pp. 167-176.
- Blaszczynski, A.
& Nower, L. (2002). A pathways model of problem and pathological
gambling. Addiction, 97 (5), 487-499.
- Breiter, H.,
Aharon, I., Kahneman, D., Dale, A., Shizgal, P. (2001). Functional
Imaging of Neural Responses to Expectancy and Experience of Monetary
Gains and Losses. Neuron 30(2), pp. 619–639.
D., Wakeley, J., Herbert, V., Cook, J., Scollo, P., Ray, M. K., ...
& Rogers, R. D. (2011). Serotonin and dopamine play complementary
roles in gambling to recover losses. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(2),
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Problem Gambling. In: Problem Gambling. A Guide for Helping
Professionals. CAMH (Eds.), pp.14-15.
- Griffiths, M. D.
(1994), An exploratory study of
gambling cross addictions. Journal of Gambling Studies,
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Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A 'components' model of addiction
within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal
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(4), pp. 191-197.
- Meyer, G.,
Schwertfeger, J., Exton, M. S., Janssen, O. E., Knapp, W., Stadler,
M. A., ... & Krüger, T. H. (2004). Neuroendocrine response to casino
gambling in problem gamblers. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29(10),
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J., & López‐Ibor,
J. J. (1991).
gambling dependence. Human
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- Moscrop, A.
(2011). Medicalisation, morality, and addiction : Why we should be
wary of problem gamblers in primary care. British Journal of
General Practice 61(593), pp. 836.
Ocean, G., & Smith, G. J. (1993). Social reward, conflict, and
commitment: A theoretical model of gambling behavior. Journal
of Gambling Studies, 9(4),
- Petry, N.
(2006). Should the Scope of Addictive Behaviors be Broadened to
Include Pathological Gambling?. Addiction 101 (s1), pp. 152.
Raylu, N., & Oei, T. P. (2004). Role of culture in gambling and
problem gambling. Clinical
psychology review, 23(8),
This entry should be cited as:
- Barboianu, C.
(2014). Problem gambling and gambling mathematics. Retrieved from
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