Gambling involves wagering something of value on an event that has a chance of happening and that will result in a prize. The activity is most often conducted with money, although it can also be done with other materials that have value such as marbles, Pogs or collectible cards. The total amount of money legally wagered on gambling events in the world is estimated at $10 trillion. In recent years, gambling has also expanded to include online activities.
While it is common for people to gamble from time to time, many develop a gambling problem. The behavior may become compulsive and impact a person’s health, relationships, work, and/or family. It can be difficult to get help for a gambling disorder, but there are ways to seek treatment and get well.
Gambling affects the brain’s reward center, which is responsible for making us feel pleasure when we do things like spend time with friends or eat a delicious meal. This is because we are biologically wired to seek rewards, and the pleasure we feel when we do certain activities is caused by our bodies releasing chemicals in response.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a form of impulse control disorder, which means it shares some features with other impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania and pyromania. PG is found in about 0.4%-1.6% of Americans, and it appears to be more prevalent in males than females. It is also more common in younger and middle-aged adults than older adults.
In the past, psychiatry viewed PG as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but in a move that has been hailed as a landmark, the American Psychiatric Association recently moved PG from the impulse control disorders to the addictions chapter in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This shift reflects a new understanding of the biology underlying addiction and demonstrates that GP is no longer merely a behavioral problem.
It is important to recognize that gambling is not an effective way to relieve unpleasant feelings or make money. Instead, try to find healthier and more productive ways to self-soothe uncomfortable emotions, such as exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends, or practicing relaxation techniques. It is also important to be mindful of how much money you are spending on gambling, and to budget it as an expense rather than a way to make money.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with gambling, it’s important to seek support from others. There are a variety of resources available for families of people who struggle with problem gambling, including family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling. These resources can help address specific problems that have been caused by the gambling behavior and lay the groundwork for repairing damaged relationships, finances, and careers. It is also important to take steps to set financial boundaries for the person with a gambling problem, such as removing their credit cards, having someone else be in charge of their money, and closing online betting accounts.