Gambling is an activity where a person places something of value (usually money) at risk on an event with an element of chance in the outcome, with the potential to win a substantially larger prize. This can be done through betting on games of chance such as lottery tickets, cards, bingo, slots, machines, instant scratch cards, races, animal tracks, sporting events and dice. Gambling is not limited to casinos or racetracks and can be found at gas stations, churches, sports events and on the internet.
The majority of adults and adolescents in the United States have placed a bet at some point, but there is a subset of people who develop a problem with gambling. Pathological gambling (PG) is a severe form of addiction that results in persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that cause distress or impairment. It is estimated that 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet diagnostic criteria for PG, and that men are more likely to develop a problem than women. Typically, a person who has a PG diagnosis begins gambling in adolescence or young adulthood and develops the problem over time.
Some long-term effects of gambling can have negative consequences for the individual, family and community/society level. For example, if someone spends large amounts of their income on gambling, they may become bankrupt, which can impact on the person’s financial situation and the finances of family members and other people who depend on them. Alternatively, people who spend a lot of their time gambling might miss out on other leisure activities, which can have a negative effect on mental health and wellbeing.
Research on the effects of gambling is often difficult to conduct, because it requires longitudinal studies. These studies can take years to complete, and are subject to a number of issues including sample attrition, test-retest reliability, and the influence of gambling on other behaviours. Longitudinal studies are also important in order to understand the relationship between a person’s risk taking behaviour and their personality traits.
Managing the impact of gambling is possible with the help of friends and family, peer support groups and professionals. If you are struggling with gambling, consider joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous or similar, which is based on a twelve-step program modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Another option is to seek the help of a therapist or psychologist, who can provide you with tools and strategies to overcome your problems. In addition, you can work on addressing any underlying mood disorders that are contributing to your gambling, such as depression or anxiety. Lastly, try to focus on your hobbies and interests that don’t involve gambling. This can help you regain your sense of control and decrease your urges to gamble. If you find that your relationships are being affected by your gambling, consider seeking professional help. This may include finding an adolescent or adult therapist who is trained in behavioural addictions. You may also want to explore alternative treatment options, such as residential treatment.