Whether it’s buying lottery tickets, betting on horse races or football accumulators, playing card games or spinning the reels of video poker machines or slot machines, gambling involves putting something at risk in the hope of winning. It can be a fun, entertaining and social activity but it can also be very dangerous. Problem gambling can harm physical and mental health, destroy relationships, cause financial difficulties and even lead to homelessness. It can also impact on work or study and affect family members, friends and co-workers. Public Health England estimates that around half the population gambles in some way and many of these do so to an extent that causes them serious problems.
The majority of gambling is chance-based, where the result is dependent on luck or randomness rather than skill. There are exceptions, however, and a number of skills and techniques can improve a person’s chances of winning. Gambling can be considered either legal or illegal depending on local laws and the types of gambling. Legal gambling includes casinos, bingo, sports and horse race betting, instant scratch cards and lotteries and the staking of money on business or stock markets. Illegal gambling includes games of chance and staking of money for a prize without being legally permitted or recognized by law.
While there are no medications approved for the treatment of gambling disorders, counseling can be helpful for people with gambling addictions. It can help them understand their behavior and think about the effects on themselves and their family, as well as teach them ways to cope with their urges to gamble. It can also teach them to confront irrational beliefs like the belief that a string of losses will eventually be followed by a big win.
Some people gamble for fun, but others find it an irresistible vice. In the past, the psychiatric community generally regarded pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction and placed it in the same category as other impulse control disorders such as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). But, in what is a landmark decision, the APA has moved gambling disorder into the chapter on addictions in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published this year.
The APA based its decision on numerous recent studies in psychology and neuroscience that have dramatically improved neuroscientists’ working model of how addictive behaviors develop in the brain. This model reveals that, as with drugs of abuse, pathological gambling can trigger a chemical response in the brain’s reward system. This is similar to the way that some people react to heroin or cocaine. It is this biological vulnerability that makes gambling addictive and can make it difficult to stop gambling, no matter how much you lose. A good way to avoid becoming a gambling addict is to only gamble with disposable income and never spend money that you need to pay bills or rent on it. It is also important to learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or trying relaxation techniques.