Gambling is wagering something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome. Events can be as simple as a roll of dice, or as complex as a horse race. Gambling involves three elements: consideration (the amount wagered), risk, and a prize. A prize can be cash or goods, but it can also be an experience, such as a vacation. Skill can improve the odds of winning, but gambling is primarily about chance and uncertainty.
The term disordered gambling covers a range of behavior from those behaviors that place individuals at risk for more serious problems (subclinical) to those that meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition, DSM-IV) diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling (PG). PG is characterized by maladaptive patterns of recreational gambling behavior and appears to develop over time, with men appearing to develop PG at a faster rate than women.
Those with problem gambling often begin to gamble in adolescence or early adulthood and continue to gamble at higher rates than nonproblematic people. Many types of gambling are available, and most countries have some form of legalized gambling. Many governments, including those of the United States, regulate or license gambling vendors and collect substantial taxes from the activity. Some jurisdictions ban gambling altogether, but this usually only encourages gambling tourism and illegal gambling in the areas where it is prohibited.
A person’s psychological and emotional state is important to his or her ability to control gambling behaviors. Those with a history of psychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may be at greater risk for developing a gambling disorder. Individuals with a family history of gambling addiction are also more likely to develop a problem.
Gambling is a complex and addictive behavior, so it is essential for those who have difficulty controlling their gambling to seek professional help. Some options for treatment include family therapy, marriage and relationship counseling, career and credit counselling, and support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
When you decide to gamble, set money and time limits in advance and stick to them. Don’t let your gambling distract you from more important tasks such as paying your bills or preparing meals. Keep only a small amount of cash on you at all times and close online betting accounts. If you think you’re thinking about gambling, stop yourself and find another thing to do immediately. Never try to make up for a loss by betting more money, and never “chase” your losses – this will only lead to bigger losses. Also, be sure to avoid alcohol and other drugs when gambling, as they can interfere with your judgment. If you think that your gambling is getting out of hand, speak to a doctor or therapist right away. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to break free from your addiction. If you don’t have a support network, consider reaching out to friends and family for help, or trying new activities such as joining a book club, sports team, or volunteering.