Gambling is an activity that involves putting something of value at risk, usually money or other assets. It may be played for fun or for real money. It also includes speculating on business, insurance or stock markets. It may also involve lotteries, scratchcards or games such as bingo and dead pool.
All forms of gambling have an element of risk – you could trip and crack your head as you get out of bed in the morning, for example. But it is the degree to which a person becomes preoccupied with gambling and lies about their involvement, or jeopardizes important relationships, work, education or financial opportunities that indicates that it has become problematic.
Whether it is online casino games, the lottery or betting on sports events, gambling can lead to feelings of excitement and euphoria, which may make it hard to recognize a problem. A common feature of gambling problems is that people find it difficult to control their spending or to stop when they are winning.
Research into the causes of gambling disorders is ongoing. One theory is that some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. Other theories relate to differences in how the brain processes reward information and regulates impulses. Another possible factor is that some communities consider gambling a normal pastime, which can make it harder to recognise a problem.
A range of criteria have been developed to help mental health professionals identify when gambling is becoming a problem. These criteria are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook used by professionals. The DSM lists the symptoms of a variety of psychological disorders, including pathological gambling.
Some factors that increase the likelihood of developing a problem include having a close relative with a gambling problem, being exposed to media portrayals of gambling, and living in an area with many casinos or other gambling venues. The DSM also notes that people who gamble with other family members are at increased risk of having a gambling problem themselves.
To reduce the chances of a gambling problem, it is helpful to set limits on spending and to stick to them. It is also advisable to play with only a small amount of money that you are prepared to lose, and not to use credit cards or other means to finance the gambling activity. It is also a good idea to make an effort to strengthen your support network and to find new hobbies and social activities that do not involve visiting casinos or placing bets. It is also helpful to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a useful way to learn from others who have successfully overcome their gambling addictions. A support group can provide a safe space for discussing issues that may be difficult to discuss with friends and family members.