Gambling is an activity whereby someone risks something of value (usually money) on an event that has a degree of uncertainty, with the aim of winning some other item of value. This includes games of chance, such as lottery tickets, scratch cards, roulette or poker, and also activities that require some skill, like horse racing or football accumulators. Generally speaking, the riskier the activity is, the more likely it is to lead to harm.
People have been gambling since ancient times, because it fulfills a number of basic human desires: the desire to win, the need to take a risk, and the desire for an experience that is different from the norm. It also involves the possibility of gaining wealth, power or status in society.
Problem gambling is a major issue in the United States, where four of five adults report having gambled at some point in their lives. It has been linked to poor mental health, family and work problems, and even suicide. People with depression are particularly at risk of harmful gambling. They may be tempted to gamble as a way to feel better about themselves, or to distract themselves from their feelings of sadness. People who are in financial hardship, for example due to illness or redundancy, are also more likely to gamble. They may use their winnings to cover debts or as a way of buying happiness.
Although the vast majority of people who gamble are not addicted, some develop a gambling disorder. In a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association recently moved pathological gambling from the category of impulse control disorders (which also includes kleptomania and pyromania) to the addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This change reflects a growing understanding of the biology behind addiction.
There are a variety of treatment options for people with gambling disorder, including cognitive behavioural therapy. In this type of therapy, doctors will look at your beliefs around betting and how they might influence your behaviour. For example, some people believe that certain rituals can bring them luck, or that they will be able to recover their losses by betting more. In reality, these beliefs are often based on misguided assumptions that have been influenced by media coverage and social pressures.
Maintaining recovery from gambling disorder can be challenging, especially with the prevalence of online casinos and bookmakers. However, it is possible to overcome a gambling problem by surrounding yourself with supportive people and avoiding tempting environments and websites. You can also join a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, and seek out helplines and other resources. Finally, you can try exercising, joining a book club or sports team, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a charity. It is important to find healthy ways to deal with stress and boredom, as well as to make sure that you are eating properly and getting enough sleep. If you are struggling to manage your finances, StepChange can offer free and confidential debt advice.