Gambling is an activity in which people place something of value, such as money or other items of personal or material worth, upon a future contingent event not under their control or influence. This includes games of chance and skill, as well as certain activities that are legal under law (e.g., insurance contracts and actuarial betting on sports). The term is also used to refer to the practice of gambling as a recreational activity or a hobby.

Behavioral scientists have found that pathological gambling shares many characteristics with substance abuse and other disorders of impulse control. It is therefore sometimes called compulsive gambling or problem gambling. In a limited number of studies, gamblers have been found to experience symptoms such as difficulty controlling urges, impaired judgment and diminished mathematical skills. In addition, gambling is known to trigger mood disorders such as depression and stress. These conditions can also make gambling more difficult to control, especially when it is done secretly or impulsively.

It is important to note that the majority of people who gamble do so responsibly and without a serious problem. However, a minority of people have severe problems that affect their health, family and work. An estimated 2.5 million adults (1%) meet the diagnostic criteria for a severe gambling disorder in a given year, while another 5-8 million (2-3%) have milder gambling problems. In general, those who have a problem with gambling are more likely to live in poverty, have poorer health outcomes and suffer from other serious mental or physical disorders than those who do not.

A person who has a problem with gambling may also exhibit negative consequences in his or her family life, including financial difficulties, marital problems and strained relationships. Problem gambling is associated with an increased risk of suicide and criminal activity as well as a variety of medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, anxiety and depression. In some cases, these problems are the result of untreated underlying mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

Many people who have a gambling problem find it difficult to recognize their behavior as abnormal and do not seek help. This is partly because cultural beliefs and social norms can influence our thoughts about what is acceptable or not. For example, in some communities, gambling is a popular pastime and it can be difficult to separate it from legitimate business activity, such as selling or buying securities, commodities or other property at a future date, or a contract of indemnity or guaranty.

If you have a loved one with a gambling problem, it is important to seek support. Talk to a friend, relative or counselor who can offer support and advice. Consider joining a gambling recovery group to discuss your concerns with others who have the same issue. Learn how to cope with unpleasant feelings in healthier ways, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. In addition, it is helpful to have a plan for managing your finances and credit.