What Is Gambling?

Gambling is a popular pastime that can be fun and exciting for many people. However, for some individuals it can have a negative impact on their lives. Problem gambling can harm relationships, work and study performance, cause debt and even lead to suicide. It can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can have a serious effect on mental health. It can affect people from all backgrounds, ages and walks of life.

Whether you play bingo, football accumulators or the lottery, all forms of gambling involve risking money or material possessions on an uncertain outcome. Some forms of gambling are more addictive than others, but all forms can cause problems. Defining what constitutes gambling helps governments create effective regulations that protect consumers, maintain fairness and prevent exploitation.

The behaviour of someone with a gambling disorder can be difficult to recognise. They may lie to friends and family, spend time away from other activities or even miss work. They may become irritable and angry when they cannot gamble. They may start borrowing or stealing to finance their addiction. People with a gambling disorder can have trouble finding and keeping jobs, and they can become unable to pay their bills.

Many different factors can influence the development of a gambling problem, including age, gender, family background, culture and environment. Some studies have found that people are more likely to develop a problem when they begin gambling at a younger age. Some people are genetically predisposed to gambling addiction and have a lower threshold for reward, control or risk. People who work in gambling settings, such as casinos or betting shops, are also more likely to develop a problem.

Research into gambling behaviours is developing fast. Longitudinal studies (studies that follow the same group of people over a period of time) are becoming more common and sophisticated, and are helping to clarify what is happening in the brains of those who have a gambling disorder. This type of research has the potential to provide valuable information about how to improve treatment and help people with a gambling disorder.

Until recently, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. In a move that was widely hailed as groundbreaking, the American Psychiatric Association moved it into the ‘addictions’ chapter in its DSM-5 diagnostic manual. This shift reflects new research that has highlighted similarities between pathological gambling and substance abuse. However, longitudinal research in this area is still limited due to funding constraints, difficulties with maintaining researcher continuity over a lengthy period of time and sample attrition, as well as the knowledge that such studies can confound aging effects and period effects. Nonetheless, it is increasingly clear that pathological gambling is indeed an addictive behavior.