What is Gambling?

Gambling is when you risk something of value on a random event where there is a chance of winning. This can be money, possessions or even your time. Examples of gambling include card games, fruit machines and scratchcards; putting money on football accumulators or other events; betting on horse and greyhound races; lottery tickets; or speculating on business, insurance or stock markets.

People who develop problems with gambling often have mood disorders. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse can trigger or make worse gambling problems. They may also be attracted to the glamour, excitement and social contact of gambling. They might also use it to escape from their problems or to avoid dealing with them.

The reward system of the brain is activated when we gamble, just as it is when we take drugs or alcohol. This is why some people who have a problem with gambling are also addicted to drugs or alcohol. People who have trouble stopping gambling may need to be helped with recovery, such as by joining a support group like Gamblers Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, or by taking medication.

In the past, the psychiatric community generally viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but that changed this year when the American Psychiatric Association moved it from the impulse control disorder section to the behavioral addictions chapter in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This move reflects research showing that gambling disorder is similar to other behavioral addictions such as cocaine and heroin, in terms of physiology, genetics and biology.

Individuals who have a problem with gambling can be young or old, male or female and come from any background. They can be rich or poor and live in small towns or big cities. Gambling problems can occur in families, among friends, co-workers and neighbors or within religious and social groups. Problem gamblers are sometimes homeless or have a criminal record, and they can have children.

If you have a friend or family member with a problem, talk to them about it. You might try to help by setting boundaries, for example, agreeing to manage the household finances or taking over paying the bills. You could also join a self-help group for families, such as Gam-Anon.

To stop gambling, start by only gambling with money you can afford to lose. Don’t chase your losses – thinking that you’re due for a big win will only make the situation worse. It’s also important to find other ways to get social and feel happy, such as taking up a hobby or going to the cinema. And try to tackle any mood disorders you might have, such as anxiety or depression. Taking steps to improve your mental health will reduce the urge to gamble. It’s also a good idea to get exercise and do some relaxation.