Gambling is the act of risking money or something else of value on an event whose outcome is determined at least partly by chance. It can include betting on sports events, buying lottery tickets, playing slot machines or scratchcards and taking part in a casino game or other forms of gambling. The risk is that you will lose more than you win.
The practice is regulated by laws in many countries. In the United States, it is a federal crime to place bets without a license. However, there are some exceptions. For example, racetracks may offer legalized gambling and licensed booksmakers can accept bets from those with a valid state permit. Despite these exceptions, the vast majority of states prohibit gambling in some form or another.
Compulsive gambling can affect people of all ages, races and genders. But it’s most common in young and middle-aged people, particularly men. The onset of a gambling problem is often triggered by stressful life events, such as unemployment or a break-up. People who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are also at greater risk of developing a gambling problem.
It’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms of a gambling problem so that you can seek help if needed. Some common signs of a gambling problem include:
Gambling addiction can be difficult to overcome, but it’s possible to get support and take control of your finances. Talk to a debt advisor at StepChange for free, confidential advice. You can also contact your GP or the NHS for further help and support.
Some people find it easier to give up gambling if they have the help and support of friends and family. It’s also helpful to understand the root causes of your gambling habits so that you can develop strategies for preventing a relapse.
The first step to breaking your gambling habit is to stop gambling altogether. This may involve getting rid of credit cards, putting someone else in charge of your money or closing online betting accounts. It’s also important to learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble and practicing relaxation techniques.
In some cases, the urge to gamble can be controlled with medication. There are also some specialised counselling services available for those with gambling problems. If you’re worried about your own or a friend’s gambling, talk to your GP or local support service.
In the past, the psychiatric community generally regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. But in the latest edition of its diagnostic manual, the American Psychiatric Association moved it to the chapter on impulse-control disorders alongside kleptomania and pyromania (hair-pulling). This move suggests that pathological gambling is starting to be viewed more seriously as an illness. This is a welcome development, but more effective treatment is still urgently required.