Gambling is a risky activity that involves placing something of value, such as money or a prize item, on the outcome of an event – it could be a football match, a lottery draw, or even a scratchcard game. People gamble for a variety of reasons – the adrenaline rush of winning, socialising with friends or escaping from stress and anxiety are all common motivations. For some people, however, gambling can become an addiction. If you’re concerned you may be experiencing symptoms of gambling addiction, seek help immediately. There are a number of treatment options available, from self-help to residential and inpatient rehabilitation.
In the past, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an actual addiction, putting it in the same category as other impulse-control disorders like kleptomania or trichotillomania (hair-pulling). However, in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling into the addictions chapter, reflecting new understandings about the biology of gambling addiction.
It’s important to recognise when your gambling is out of control, and there are many signs to look out for. These include:
Frequently betting more than you can afford to lose; gambling to make up for financial losses or other problems; lying to family members or therapists about the extent of your involvement in gambling; hiding evidence of your gambling; and continuing to gamble, even when it negatively impacts your health, career or relationships. Personality traits and coexisting mood disorders can also increase your risk of harmful gambling.
Gambling can be found in a wide range of places, from casinos and racetracks to gas stations, churches and sporting events. It’s a major commercial industry, with the global legal gambling market worth around $335 billion. While most people gamble for fun, some do experience trouble. It is estimated that about 2 million Americans have a gambling problem, and for some it can be life-threatening.
While gambling isn’t illegal in every country, it’s often highly regulated. Governments have to balance the desire to encourage gambling, and tax revenues, with the need to keep the public safe. In some countries, like Russia, the gambling industry is so lucrative that it provides more jobs than traditional industries. This can create a conflict between state and industry.