Gambling is an activity in which people stake something of value (typically money) on an event with an element of chance, and there’s the potential to win a prize. It can take many forms, including lotteries, casinos, sports betting, online gambling, horse racing, dice games and scratchcards. People gamble for many reasons – for the thrill of winning, to socialise and escape boredom or worries, or just for fun. However, if it becomes problematic or out of control, gambling can cause harm.
Gambling can be found in many places and is practised all over the world, whether legally or illegally. It is one of the most popular leisure activities, and it is estimated that over $10 trillion is wagered globally each year.
While most people who gamble do so without any problems, a small proportion develop an addiction to gambling. This is called gambling disorder and is recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Problem gambling can lead to financial difficulties, debt, relationship issues, work-related stress, health problems, substance use disorders and even suicide or suicidal thoughts. This is why it’s so important to seek help if you have any concerns about your own or someone else’s gambling.
The good news is that gambling is a treatable mental illness. There are a number of treatment options available, including individual and group therapy, medication and self-help. Treatments are based on an understanding of the underlying causes of pathological gambling, and include education about gambling and its risks, motivational enhancement, cognitive behavioural therapy and abstinence.
Despite the wide availability of gambling treatments, many have limited effectiveness. This is likely due to the varying theoretical and empirical approaches that underpin them. In particular, a lack of agreement about the etiology and maintenance of pathological gambling has resulted in eclectic theoretic conceptualizations that influence therapeutic procedures.
Longitudinal studies are also vital for our understanding of the onset, development and maintenance of gambling behavior. These studies follow the same individuals over a long period of time, allowing researchers to compare their responses to those of others. However, longitudinal research in gambling is relatively rare, largely because of the enormous cost involved for large scale studies and the challenges of maintaining research team continuity over a long period.
When gambling, only gamble with money that you can afford to lose. Don’t gamble with money you need for bills or rent, and set time and money limits for yourself. Never chase your losses, thinking that you will get lucky and recoup your lost funds – this is known as the gambler’s fallacy. Also avoid using alcohol or drugs when gambling, as they can increase your chances of making poor decisions and can lead to dangerous behaviour. Try to find healthier ways of relieving unpleasant feelings if you’re feeling down, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or taking up a new hobby. If you struggle with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, see a therapist for support.