Gambling involves the wagering of something of value on an event with a chance of winning. The event may be random, such as the outcome of a lottery draw or a sporting event, or it could require skill, like card games and betting on horse races. Some people with compulsive gambling problems engage in regulated forms of gambling, such as provincial lotteries, while others participate in non-regulated forms of gambling, like online gaming or informal social gatherings where the outcome is not guaranteed.
The first known evidence of gambling dates back to ancient China. Tiles found in a tomb from around 2,300 B.C. show a rudimentary game of chance, with players placing chips in rows and columns to form combinations that might have won a prize. While gambling is often associated with casinos and racetracks, it can take place in many places, including bars, gas stations, church halls, and even on the Internet.
Some forms of gambling involve more risk than others, and the likelihood of winning varies according to skill. A bettor’s knowledge of strategy can improve the odds of winning at some types of gambling, such as in card games, while a better understanding of horses and jockeys can help a gambler predict the probable outcome of a horse race. In general, however, a person’s chances of winning are greatly reduced if they attempt to make multiple bets with small amounts of money, as this can quickly lead to financial ruin.
In the past, psychiatric experts regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction, and it was grouped with impulse control disorders like kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting things on fire). The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, has moved pathological gambling into the category of addictive disorders, reflecting research showing that it shares characteristics with substance use disorders in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and treatment response.
If you know someone who has a problem with gambling, encourage them to seek help. Talk with them about the effects of their gambling and offer support to find healthier ways to cope with unpleasant emotions. For example, you might suggest that they try exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or learning relaxation techniques.
Some people with a gambling problem are at greater risk of developing mood disorders such as depression, stress, or anxiety. These conditions can also cause or worsen gambling problems, and should be addressed with therapy and medication if necessary. If you have a friend or family member who suffers from these disorders, consider seeking help together, such as through a support group like Gamblers Anonymous. This 12-step recovery program is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, and it can help you gain the skills you need to manage your gambling. In addition, you can strengthen your own support network by making new friends who don’t gamble and by joining a community organization that promotes responsible gambling.