Gambling involves risking something of value (money, property, possessions or reputation) on an event with an uncertain outcome. It includes activities that are purely random, such as rolling dice or flipping a coin, and those where skill can affect the odds of winning, such as card games, sports betting or horse racing. The term also applies to activities that are not legal gambling, such as illegal lottery or unauthorized credit card loans or borrowing.

In the past, it was widely believed that compulsive gambling was a compulsion that was not as serious as addiction to alcohol or drugs, but in 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) listed pathological gambling as an addictive disorder akin to substance use disorders. The change is based on new research showing that the brain changes that occur in people with addictions to alcohol or drugs also occur in those who have gambling problems.

People who develop a problem with gambling may lose control over their behavior and gamble even when they are in financial trouble. They may lie, hide their spending and even steal to fund their gambling. They may become secretive about their gambling and feel the need to justify it to family members or colleagues. Often they try to cope with unpleasant feelings by gambling, such as loneliness or boredom.

Gambling can lead to financial and personal problems, such as bankruptcy, divorce or strained relationships with friends and loved ones. It can also cause psychological distress and other health issues, such as depression and anxiety. In severe cases, it can even lead to suicide.

Some people can stop gambling after a few rounds of poker or a spin of the slots, and can manage their finances effectively. Others, however, can’t. Those who become addicted to gambling experience dramatic alterations in the way their brain sends chemical messages, and they are unable to control their urges. Their actions can ruin their lives, destroy their families and cost them their jobs.

People who have a gambling disorder can benefit from support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, and individual therapy. Many states offer free or low-cost counseling for problem gambling, and there are national helplines available for assistance. Physical activity can also help, and some studies have shown that it can reduce the effects of gambling. Other treatment options include inpatient or residential programs, and treatments for underlying conditions that contribute to the gambling disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. You can also get professional help through a private counselor or by going to a community-based program for gamblers and their families, such as Gam-Anon. Our Safeguarding Courses also include training on how to identify and respond to the signs of gambling abuse or addiction. Find out more here.