Gambling is an activity in which people stake something of value — such as money or goods — on the outcome of an event that is determined primarily by chance. It can occur in a variety of ways, including in casinos, lotteries, sports betting, and online games. People often gamble with real money, but gambling can also be conducted with materials that have value but are not money (such as marbles or collectable game pieces). Gambling may involve a certain degree of skill, but it is mostly a matter of luck.
A person with a gambling disorder engages in maladaptive patterns of behavior related to betting or gaming, even when they have the intention of changing their habits. Symptoms can include an urge to bet or play, frequent losses, and an inability to control their actions (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Gambling disorders tend to run in families. They can start in adolescence or young adulthood and may affect men and women differently. They can cause serious problems, such as financial loss, relationship difficulties, and thoughts of suicide.
The main reasons that people gamble are to win money, socialize, change their moods, or enjoy a rush or ‘high’ that is associated with gambling. They might also have dreams of a big jackpot win, which can cause them to lose control and continue gambling. Some people with gambling disorders use it to relieve unpleasant feelings such as boredom or depression, while others do it to distract themselves from a mental health problem or other traumatic events. It is important to note that these motives do not absolve a person of their responsibility for their gambling addiction and may help you understand why they find it hard to stop.
People who have a gambling disorder often lie to friends and family members about the extent of their involvement in gambling or about how much they are losing. They might also try to conceal evidence of their gambling activity by hiding money or electronic devices. Those with an unhealthy attachment to gambling can become so obsessed that they may commit illegal acts such as theft or fraud in order to fund their habit, or jeopardize a job, education, or relationship to do so. They can also end up homeless, with debt problems, or in jail.
If you know someone who is struggling with a gambling problem, there are things you can do to help them. You can talk to them about their problems, offer support, and encourage them to seek treatment. You can also suggest alternative activities that can help them manage their stress and emotions, such as spending time with friends who don’t gamble or taking up a new hobby. You can also offer to pay their bills or lend them money to help them cope with their financial situation. If you think they are in immediate danger of harming themselves, call 999 or visit A&E immediately. You can also get free debt advice from StepChange.