What Is Gambling?

Gambling involves betting or staking something of value on the outcome of a contest of chance or future contingent event not under one’s control or influence, with awareness of the risk and in hope of gain. It includes everything from buying lottery tickets and scratch-off games to playing blackjack and other casino games. However, gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts such as securities or commodities purchases at a future date or insurance agreements of indemnity or guaranty (including life, health and accident insurance).

Many people gamble for social reasons. The media portrays gambling as fun, sexy and glamorous; it can also offer an escape from problems, boredom or loneliness. For some individuals, gambling triggers feelings of euphoria and can become addictive. For some, it becomes a way to cope with depression or stress; it can take their mind off their problems and they can be surrounded by different sounds and people and be in a new environment.

Problem gambling can have serious effects on the person’s physical and mental health, relationships, work or study performance, as well as their personal finances and social life. It can even lead to homelessness or suicide. Several organisations offer help, advice and counselling for people who are having problems with gambling or who want to stop gambling altogether.

The understanding of pathological gambling has undergone a significant shift in recent years. Until recently, psychiatric researchers and clinicians generally viewed it as an impulse-control disorder (similar to kleptomania or pyromania), but in the most recent edition of its diagnostic manual, the American Psychiatric Association has moved pathological gambling into the category of addiction.

Although there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of gambling disorders, some studies have shown that cognitive-behavior therapy may help individuals learn to resist the urges to gamble and improve their coping skills. Other therapies involve family or group support and addressing co-occurring mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Taking a break or going on vacation can also be helpful.

Developing a strong support network, especially among family and friends, can be critical to maintaining healthy relationships and avoiding the temptation to gamble. Trying to find other ways to spend time can help individuals focus on their strengths and positive aspects of their lives. Getting enough physical activity can also reduce the urge to gamble. For some, attending a gambling recovery support group like Gamblers Anonymous can be helpful. In addition, it is important to consider options for dealing with financial issues such as bankruptcy and debt.