Gambling is an activity in which people stake or risk something of value (usually money or possessions) upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under their control or influence, in the expectation of winning a prize. It includes activities such as playing card games, dice, roulette, horse or greyhound racing, lotteries and scratch-off tickets. However, it does not include bona fide business transactions for securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty, or life, health or accident insurance.
Problem gambling is a serious mental disorder in which individuals have an intense, uncontrollable urge to gamble that leads to significant consequences, including problems with relationships and work or school performance. It can also cause financial difficulties and lead to legal troubles, homelessness and suicide. The prevalence of problem gambling is unknown, but the majority of those diagnosed with a pathological gambling disorder report beginning to develop symptoms in adolescence or young adulthood.
Longitudinal research on gambling is difficult, but it is becoming more common and sophisticated. These studies can offer a glimpse of how gambling changes over time, allowing researchers to test whether an individual’s gambling behavior is the result of a specific period in their life or if they are progressing toward a pathological gambling disorder. These studies are also useful for understanding the role of social environments in gambling.
There are several effective treatment options for those suffering from a gambling addiction, including counseling, pharmacotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. However, a person with a gambling addiction may still feel compelled to gamble even after seeking help for their problem. It is therefore important for them to have a strong support network, and seek out a counselor who can help them cope with their addiction in healthy ways.
Many people turn to gambling for psychological or emotional reasons. They may find it helps to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as boredom or depression, and they might enjoy the excitement of hoping for a big win. It is a good idea for these people to try to learn healthier ways to manage their moods, such as by exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, participating in recreational activities or practicing relaxation techniques.
For those with a severe gambling problem, inpatient or residential treatment programs may be necessary. These programs provide round-the-clock care, and often involve group therapy and a mentor who is a former compulsive gambler. Some of these programs are based on the twelve-step model used in Alcoholics Anonymous, while others are specialized in treating gambling disorders. For people with a gambling disorder, it is also important to address any underlying mood conditions, as these may be triggers for the gambling addiction. For example, depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by stress and can make it harder to resist the temptation to gamble.