Gambling involves staking something of value, typically money, on an event that has an element of chance and the potential to yield a large prize. It may be done in casinos, at racetracks, on sports teams or in online games and activities. Historically, it was considered a morally acceptable pastime and was often encouraged by society. However, many people develop a gambling addiction and can be severely harmed by their behavior. There are several ways to seek help for a gambling problem and to recover from it. One option is to enter a residential treatment program, which can provide around-the-clock support and care. Other options include attending self-help groups for individuals with gambling disorder, such as Gamblers Anonymous. Counseling can also be helpful for people with a gambling addiction and help them think about how their behaviors affect others.

Psychiatric understanding of gambling has undergone a radical change in recent years. Until recently, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. Nevertheless, it was considered to be related to impulse control disorders, such as kleptomania and pyromania, and was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In a move that is widely regarded as significant, the American Psychiatric Association has moved pathological gambling into the category of addictions in its DSM-5, published this past May.

While the precise legal definition of gambling varies by state, it generally involves risking something of value on the outcome of a game of chance or a future contingent event not under one’s control or influence, with an agreement or understanding that the gambler will receive something of value in the event of a specified result. It does not include business transactions based on the law of contracts, such as the purchase of stock or securities or health or life insurance.

Pathological gambling is characterized by recurrent and maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that cause distress or personal or social problems. It is estimated that 0.4%-1.6% of the US population meets criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling. Those who have a gambling disorder generally begin gambling in adolescence or early adulthood and have a slower recovery rate than those who do not. Males are more likely to develop a gambling problem than women, and they are more likely to engage in strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack and poker.

The first step in treating a gambling disorder is acknowledging that you have a problem. This can be difficult, especially if you have lost money or have strained relationships as a result of your gambling habits. But it is important to understand that you can get help for your gambling problem and regain your life back. Talk to a therapist who can help you deal with the issues and find other ways to spend your time.