Gambling is when you stake something of value – usually money – on an event that involves chance, such as a football match or scratchcard. The outcome of the event is determined at least partly by chance, and could be anything from a small prize to a multimillion-dollar jackpot. People gamble at casinos, lotteries, horse races and online. Most people who gamble do so without problems, but some develop an addiction. This is known as gambling disorder and is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 1994). Some people may not realize they have a problem. They might downplay or lie about their gambling behaviour, and hide evidence of it from loved ones. They might even steal or cheat to fund their gambling, jeopardizing relationships and job opportunities. In extreme cases, they might even end up in debt or bankruptcy.
Scientists want to understand the mechanisms that lead some people to gamble compulsively and how this differs between individuals. They use longitudinal data to observe people over time and identify factors that moderate or exacerbate their involvement. They also study how gambling affects different parts of the brain, and look for genetic differences in people’s ability to process reward information or control impulses.
Many people do not consider their behaviour to be problematic, but it is important to remember that gambling is a form of risk-taking and can result in harm. In addition to the potential for financial loss, there are other risks, such as depression and substance abuse. People who gamble compulsively often have underlying mood disorders such as anxiety, depression or stress, and these must be addressed. The reward centres of the brain are impacted by gambling, and the behaviour is addictive. In addition, the activity is often easy to access and does not require a significant amount of skill, which means it can be hard to put a stop to it.
People are more likely to gamble if it is readily available, which is why it is important to set limits for how much you can spend and for how long. It is also helpful to seek support if you are struggling. You can contact gambling helplines, and there are also support groups like Gamblers Anonymous that offer advice and help. You can also distract yourself from the urge to gamble by engaging in another activity, such as taking a walk, eating a meal or talking to friends. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with gambling, you can offer them your support and encouragement. This can help them to break the cycle and find a solution that works for them. You can also offer them practical assistance, such as helping with bills or cleaning the house. Lastly, you can encourage them to get help from a healthcare professional. The sooner they do this, the better. They can then start to regain control of their life and reclaim their dignity.