Gambling involves wagering something of value (money, possessions) on an event that is random and outside one’s control with the expectation of winning a prize (money or other items of value). It also includes activities where skill is a significant factor, such as card games and sports betting. People gamble for many reasons, including recreation, socializing, and coping with unpleasant feelings. Although most people who engage in gambling do not have a serious problem, some people are at high risk for developing a gambling disorder. Pathological gambling is a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by severe and persistent problematic gambling behavior accompanied by distressing symptoms such as compulsive gambling, denial, and impaired impulse control. People with pathological gambling often have a co-occurring substance use disorder or other mental health disorders. It is estimated that 4% of the American population meets the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) criteria for pathological gambling. It is important to recognize that gambling can be dangerous and seek treatment when it becomes a problem.
People may engage in social gambling for small amounts of money, playing cards or other games with friends for a stake, or buying lottery tickets. People may also participate in speculative gambling activities, such as making bets on the outcome of sporting events or business transactions. In some instances, a person may participate in gambling as a career and earn a living from it.
Research on gambling has largely been based on cross-sectional surveys. However, longitudinal studies are more effective in identifying the causes of gambling problems and predicting how they will develop over time. These types of studies are needed to address the fact that individuals can shift between different levels of gambling involvement – from social or recreational gambling to pathological gambling and back again. Longitudinal studies also provide more precise estimates of the effects of gambling, such as the prevalence and intensity of a person’s gambling behavior.
The results of some longitudinal studies indicate that a person’s risk for developing gambling problems increases with age. This is probably because people are exposed to more stimuli in the environment where they gamble, such as a greater variety of casino machines and more competitive and appealing games. Consequently, they are more likely to experience reinforcement and become addicted to gambling.
Identifying a gambling problem is not always easy and can be especially challenging when someone has already lost significant sums of money and strained or broken relationships due to their gambling behavior. It is also common for people to minimize or deny that their gambling has become a problem. They may hide evidence of their gambling, lie to family members or therapists about the extent of their gambling, and even start to steal in order to fund it (chasing losses).
When someone has a gambling problem, it is important to reach out for help. Seeking help does not mean that you are weak or incompetent; rather, it is a sign of strength and courage to admit that you have a problem and need help. It is also vital to learn healthy coping strategies and find ways to relieve unpleasant feelings without gambling. Some of the most helpful strategies include exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. In addition, it is important to get therapy and attend support groups.