What is Gambling?

Gambling is the risking of something of value (money, assets, property) in an attempt to predict the outcome of a game of chance. The activity is usually organized by someone else (a casino, horse race track, etc.) and the odds of winning are typically against the gambler (as is true in insurance, where actuaries calculate appropriate premiums). The word gambling may also be used to describe activities not involving a wager, such as playing card games, scratch cards, or betting on sports events.

Compulsive gambling can have serious consequences, from straining relationships to racking up huge debts or even losing a job or home. It can also lead to other health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for gambling disorder.

Unlike other consumer goods, gambling is not promoted by big advertising budgets, although it can be advertised on TV and social media or through wall-to-wall sponsorship of football clubs. This is partly because of the low profitability of gambling, but it is also because the product has a low addictive potential.

For many people, gambling can become a problem when it becomes an obsession, resulting in the development of symptoms such as lying to family members, stealing money to fund their habit, or skipping meals or other important activities to spend time on gambling. Gambling problems are more common in men than women and can affect people of any age, although they often begin during childhood or teenage years. People who have a family history of gambling problems are more likely to develop them themselves.

The understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone a major change, influenced by developments in neuroscience and the increasing availability of data on brain function in individuals with pathological gambling. This has led to the inclusion of a new category for problem gambling in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association. The addition places the disorder in a new chapter on behavioral addictions and highlights the close relationship between gambling disorder and substance-related disorders, including alcoholism and drug dependence.

If you know or suspect that a loved one has a gambling problem, try to encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible. If they are reticent to speak out, offer your support and encouragement without judgment. Suggest calling a helpline, talking to their doctor or mental health professional, or attending Gamblers Anonymous. Research shows that physical exercise, relaxation techniques, and support from friends and family can all help with gambling addiction. If finances are a concern, try suggesting that they get rid of credit cards or let someone else be in charge of their money, open a savings account, and close their online betting accounts. Often, people with gambling disorders have underlying mood issues such as depression or anxiety, which can both trigger their problem and make it worse.