Gambling is the risking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. It includes activities such as playing bingo, buying lottery or scratch-off tickets, betting on sports events or horse races, and using pokies (slot machines). Some forms of gambling require a high level of skill to increase the chances of winning. Others do not.
Although most people gamble without problems, a subset develops gambling disorder. This is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, as persistent and recurrent gambling behavior that causes significant impairment or distress. The etiology of GD is complex and involves multiple factors in biological, psychological, and social domains. Several self-report and interview tools are available for assessment of GD, and psychosocial interventions and medications can be used to treat it.
While it is difficult to prevent or cure gambling disorder, recognizing the problem can help a person seek treatment. Some of the most effective treatments are cognitive behavioral therapy, family-based therapies, and abstinence-oriented approaches. Individuals with a history of depression or substance abuse are at higher risk for developing a gambling disorder. People in low socioeconomic status are more likely to gamble than those who are well-off.
In addition to its effects on the individual, gambling can have a negative impact on families and communities. Research shows that gambling increases the risk of divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. It also increases the risk of suicide. People with a history of mental illness are at increased risk for gambling problems, as are people who have been exposed to trauma or loss in their lives.
Research into the causes of gambling disorders has produced a number of theories. These include a predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity, genetic influences on brain reward system function, and differences in the way individuals process rewards and make decisions. Studies that use longitudinal designs are able to more precisely examine the role of various factors and determine causality.
Various societal and cultural factors can also influence gambling activity and the extent to which people recognize that their gambling is problematic. For example, some cultures promote gambling as a recreational activity and may discourage people from seeking help when they have a gambling disorder. The nomenclature used to describe pathological gambling varies, because researchers, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers frame questions about gambling differently based on their disciplinary training and world views.
To combat a gambling problem, it is important to strengthen your support network. This can be done by talking to friends and family members, joining a support group for gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous, or attending a therapist. It is also helpful to set boundaries in managing your finances, such as not allowing money to be spent on gambling. You can also try to find a new hobby or focus on physical activity.