Gambling involves betting on something where there is an element of randomness and the objective is to win money or other things of value. This includes casino games, lotteries and sports accumulators. It also includes speculating on business, insurance or stock markets, although some people will argue that these are not gambling because there is not an element of randomness involved.
Some people have the ability to gamble responsibly and can control their urges, but others are more vulnerable and develop harmful gambling behaviour. This can damage their health and relationships, impact work or study, put them in financial crisis and even lead to homelessness. Harmful gambling can be associated with mental health problems, such as depression, and other factors, such as coping styles, beliefs and environment, may also increase the risk of unhealthy gambling.
A few decades ago, psychiatrists viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction and classified it under impulse-control disorders, alongside other conditions like kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). But this year, the American Psychiatric Association moved it to the addictions section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), putting it in line with substance dependence. This decision is a milestone and highlights the growing understanding of the biology underlying addiction.
It is also the first time that the APA has recognised the importance of social and environmental factors in gambling. Many of these are linked to psychological disorders and a range of other health problems, including depression and anxiety. For example, people who live in areas with many casinos are more likely to be exposed to gambling and be at risk of harm.
Research has also found that gambling can be addictive because it releases certain chemicals, such as dopamine, in the brain that have the same effect on the body as drugs. This is why it can be so hard to stop.
There are a number of ways to help people with a gambling problem. One option is to seek treatment or rehabilitation in a residential facility. This can be expensive, but can give people a safe and supportive place to stop gambling. For those who do not have access to this kind of care, there are self-help strategies that can be used at home. These include identifying triggers, setting money and time limits, practicing relaxation exercises for gambling cravings and distracting yourself with other activities.
Urges to gamble can be very strong, especially when they are triggered by an emotional or financial crisis. To overcome this, it is important to strengthen your support network and find new activities that will divert you from your addiction. You could try joining a book club or sports team, enrolling in an education class, volunteering or joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is also important to take steps to manage your finances and keep only a small amount of cash on you.