Gambling is wagering something of value on a random event, such as a football match or scratchcard, with the intention of winning something else of value. It is not a crime to gamble and some people do so responsibly. However, for others, gambling becomes a dangerous addiction that affects their mental health and relationships, performance at work or studies, gets them into debt and may even lead to homelessness. Problem gambling can also harm family, friends and colleagues and can even be a trigger for suicide.

Many factors can contribute to gambling problems, including a genetic predisposition for thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity, poor understanding of probability, the use of escape coping, stressors in life, and a lack of self-control. In addition, some cultures have certain beliefs or ideas about gambling that make it harder to recognise when a person is having a problem with this activity.

When someone begins gambling, their brain produces dopamine – the neurotransmitter that makes them feel excited – to reward the risky behaviour. Over time, this causes them to become more and more attracted to the activity. This is how gambling becomes addictive. As the addiction develops, the person begins to lose control and they begin to bet more and more money on their favourite game, or they start to use it as a way of escaping from boredom or stress. In the long run, this will result in more losses and will ultimately stop being fun.

The current psychiatric classification for pathological gambling changed in 2013. It is now considered an impulse control disorder, similar to substance addiction. The classification is based on research that has shown a number of different behavioural traits, such as sensation-seeking, novelty-seeking, and a high level of impulsivity.

One of the key reasons for this change is that scientific evidence has gathered that suggests that pathological gambling is not just a moral failing, but a genuine disorder with a biological basis. It can cause dramatic alterations in the way that the brain sends chemical messages and is therefore difficult to control on one’s own.

For some people, overcoming a gambling addiction can be a long and challenging process. It’s important to get support, especially from friends and family. It’s also a good idea to join a peer support group, such as Gamblin Anonymous, which follows a similar model to Alcoholics Anonymous and can provide a great source of encouragement. If all else fails, there are specialised treatment and rehab programs available. These are usually based in residential facilities and can offer round the clock support. You can also take a look at our Safeguarding Training Courses, which cover everything from Child Protection to Working with Vulnerable Adults.