Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. Whether you buy a lottery ticket, place bets on the horses or sports events, or use the pokies in your local pub, gambling is an extremely popular pastime around the world and generates significant revenue for states and countries. However, for some people it can become an addictive behaviour causing harm.

It’s important to remember that gambling is an activity that involves a degree of risk and can lead to financial loss. It is recommended that you budget for your gambling and treat it as an expense, not a way to make money.

In the US, the term gambling can refer to any game of chance or skill in which a person risks or stakes something of value, either money or property, and hopes to gain something of equal value in return. This includes lotteries, keno, bingo, scratch cards, roulette, and horse racing. However, it does not include bona fide business transactions that are valid under the law of contract (such as buying and selling stocks, commodities, or insurance) or contracts for a future contingent event that is under the control of someone other than the gambler (such as life, health, or accident insurance).

The current definition of pathological gambling in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-4) is “gambling behavior characterized by the compulsive urge to gamble and losses of significant amounts of money or other entrusted property, a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money to gamble, irrational thinking about gambling, and continued behavior despite adverse consequences” (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, 1994). Previous DSM nomenclature highlighted the high comorbidity of gambling disorder with substance abuse disorders.

Although some research has focused on the role of mood disorders in gambling addiction, most studies to date have been cross-sectional in design. Longitudinal data are essential for understanding the underlying factors that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation, as well as to establish causality. However, the logistical barriers to conducting longitudinal gambling research are enormous. For example, it is difficult to maintain funding and staff continuity over long periods of time; sample attrition can be a challenge; and the effect of period and age can confound results.

There are several reasons why people may choose to gamble, such as the excitement of winning money, socialising with friends, or escaping from stress and worries. However, if you are worried that your gambling is becoming problematic, you should seek help. You can find support groups, get treatment and try self-help tips. It’s also worth mentioning that some people have serious mental health problems that can cause harmful gambling, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. If you are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious, contact a support service such as StepChange for free debt advice. You can also call 999 or visit A&E for urgent medical help.