Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value, such as money or possessions, in the hope of winning more than they have invested. It can be done in many ways, from placing a bet on a football match to buying a scratchcard. The key thing to remember is that the outcome of a gamble is determined, at least in part, by chance. This means that you cannot be certain of the outcome of a gamble, no matter how carefully you have chosen your bet or how well you understand the odds.
The majority of people who gamble do so responsibly and do not develop a gambling disorder. However, around 0.4-1.6% of people who gamble end up developing pathological gambling (PG), which is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that cause significant distress or impairment. Typically, PG starts in adolescence or young adulthood and tends to be more prevalent in men than women. It is also more likely to occur in people who participate in strategic and face-to-face forms of gambling, such as playing poker or blackjack, than non-strategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as lottery play or slots.
People who are vulnerable to gambling problems may have mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. They may also be influenced by family history of gambling addiction and personality traits. A financial crisis, such as being unable to pay bills or debt repayments, can also be a trigger for gambling. It is important to recognise the signs of a problem and seek help if you are experiencing any of the following:
Gambling affects the reward center of your brain, which is the same area that gets triggered when you enjoy a good meal, spend time with a friend or cuddle your pet. This is why it can be so difficult to stop gambling, even when you know it is a bad idea. When you are trying to quit, it is important to set limits for yourself and stick to them. For example, if you are at the casino, decide before you go how much you can afford to lose and only play with that amount. This will ensure you can stop as soon as your limit is reached and it stops you from chasing losses.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is often used to treat gambling addiction. This type of psychotherapy focuses on changing your thoughts and beliefs about betting, such as believing you are more likely to win than you actually are or thinking you can get back any money you have lost by gambling more. It is also possible to have group therapy, where you meet with others who are experiencing the same problems as you. This is particularly useful for preventing relapse and building support networks. You can also find self-help groups for families, such as Gam-Anon, which can be a great source of moral support.