A gambling activity is the wagering of something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the hope of winning something of greater value. A person engages in gambling if three elements are present: consideration, risk, and a prize (American Psychiatric Association 2000). It does not include bona fide business transactions or contracts of insurance or indemnity valid under law or those involved with life, health or accident insurance.
Gambling can be an enjoyable pastime for some people, but others may find themselves in difficulty if they start to gamble too much. When this becomes a problem, they need help to stop the behaviour and learn better ways of dealing with their emotions. They might also need to seek support for other underlying mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, which can often be made worse by compulsive gambling.
It is estimated that approximately 4% of the US population has gambling disorders, including pathological gambling, and that up to 8% of the population is at risk for developing one. Pathological gambling has high comorbidity with alcohol and drug abuse and other mood disorders, which can be both triggers and perpetuators of the disorder. The DSM-5 has moved gambling disorder from the subtype of addictive behavior to a separate category as a behavioral addiction due to its similarities with substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and treatment (Petry, Bowden-Jones & Hall, 2013).
Some people engage in social gambling, such as playing card games or board games for small amounts of money with friends, participating in a friendly football pool, or buying lottery tickets or scratchcards. This type of gambling is generally considered to be a casual form of the activity, and participants might not consider their involvement in it as serious as other forms of gambling.
Other types of gambling involve larger amounts of money and are considered more serious, such as placing a bet on a major sporting event or participating in a state-licensed lottery. Some individuals make a living by engaging in professional gambling, using their knowledge of the game or games they play to consistently win money over time.
When someone is struggling with gambling, family and friends can provide important support. Counselling can also be helpful, and it is often useful to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses a 12-step program similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. Other support measures might include removing credit cards, putting someone else in charge of finances, closing online betting accounts and keeping only a small amount of cash on hand. People can also try to change their environment by joining a book club, sports team, education class or volunteering for a charity. If the problem is severe, a doctor might prescribe medications to treat underlying conditions and reduce cravings for gambling. However, these treatments are not always successful and they are usually only available through private clinics.