Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value (such as money or property) on an event with some element of chance. It also involves predicting the outcome of such an event, and the person is hoping to win something of value in return. It can be done in a variety of ways, including playing games like bingo, slot machines, poker and blackjack. The risk involved is not always apparent, and the activity can have serious consequences. It can affect a person’s physical and mental health, relationships with family, work or study performance, and can lead to debt and homelessness. It can also have a detrimental effect on the lives of those close to the gambler.
It is important to realise that gambling is an activity that requires a significant amount of skill, luck and timing. People who are not good at these skills can easily become addicted to the activity. A person may also be predisposed to developing a gambling addiction due to genetics, trauma, or other factors that increase the chances of developing a problem. Pathological gambling (PG) develops in adolescence or young adulthood and is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors. The majority of PG cases are in men, and the disease is more common in those who begin gambling at a younger age.
In the past, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction. But, in the 1980s, while updating its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association moved the condition to the section on impulse control disorders, which also includes kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair pulling).
A person with an impulse-control disorder feels unable to resist engaging in certain behaviors that are harmful to them or someone else, such as stealing, cheating or gambling. They may experience a feeling of emotional arousal or excitement prior to engaging in the behavior and feel unable to stop once they start. They might also lie to their friends and family about the extent of their involvement in a certain behavior. They may even commit illegal acts, such as forgery, embezzlement or theft, to fund their gambling activities.
If you are concerned that your or someone you know has a problem with gambling, contact a counsellor – it is free and confidential. You could also try reducing the amount of time you spend gambling, setting yourself time and money limits and making sure that you are not gambling while you are depressed or upset. If you can’t quit gambling completely, find alternative recreational and social activities. It is also important to strengthen your support network, and consider joining a peer recovery program such as Gamblers Anonymous.