Gambling is the risking of something of value (money, possessions, or reputation) on an event with a random outcome, such as a lottery draw, coin toss, or horse race. It is distinct from other forms of recreation that require skill, such as sports or games of chance, where the bettor’s knowledge and abilities determine success. Historically, gambling was associated with immoral behavior and criminal activity and many governments regulate it to protect consumers and maintain fairness.
People gamble for a variety of reasons. Some are attracted to the excitement and potential for large wins, while others may seek emotional relief or social stimulation. Research shows that the reward system in the brain is activated when a person gambles, but this does not necessarily translate to long-term monetary success or enjoyment of the game. In addition, gambling can result in stress and anxiety and may interfere with relationships.
Some individuals experience gambling problems, and the symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Those with more serious addictions may benefit from inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs that provide round-the-clock support. Those who wish to avoid gambling harms can take steps to reduce their access to money by getting rid of credit cards, having the bank make automatic payments for them, closing online betting accounts, and keeping only a small amount of cash on them. They can also learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways, such as by exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.
A key difference between a normal gambling experience and an unhealthy one is impulsivity. Those who gamble tend to have poor impulse control, and they often display a tendency to take risks when they are in an emotionally aroused state. This is particularly true of those who are addicted to gambling and have a preoccupation with winning big amounts of money.
In the DSM-5, pathological gambling has been moved to a new category that includes behavioral addictions, reflecting the recognition that it shares many characteristics with substance abuse disorders in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and physiology.
It can be difficult to know when a person’s gambling is becoming a problem. A common reaction is to try to hide the problem, lie about how much they are betting or hiding evidence of their activities. In some cases, a person might even increase their bets in an attempt to win back lost money. This is a sign that the urge to gamble is out of control and requires professional help.