Gambling is when people risk money or items of value in games with an element of chance. This includes card and fruit machines, betting on sports and events, lottery games, scratchcards and casino games such as baccarat and roulette. Gambling can also include business and insurance risk-shifting (eg a football coach placing bets against their own team to mitigate financial losses if they lose the season).
The most obvious reason for gambling is for entertainment or to win money. However, it can also be for social reasons – it might be what you and your friends do when you get together or it may be a way of passing time. Some people gamble to relieve unpleasant feelings or emotions, such as boredom, loneliness or stress. This can be harmful, especially if you don’t know how to manage these feelings in healthier ways. It can also be linked to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
Some people are more likely to develop problems with gambling than others. This can be down to a number of factors, such as coping styles, underlying mood disorders and the environment in which you grow up. The type of gambling available in your local area and the proximity of casinos or other gambling facilities may also influence whether you gamble and how often you do.
In the past, psychiatric experts viewed pathological gambling as a form of impulse control disorder – a fuzzy label that included activities such as kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (setting things on fire) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). However, in a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association moved it into a category of addictions in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
While it can be difficult to recognise that you have a problem, there are steps you can take to improve your situation. You can set money and time limits for how long you will gamble, and try not to chase your losses. If you think that you might be struggling with gambling, you can speak to one of our counsellors, who are available 24/7.
It’s important to remember that only you can decide to stop gambling, even if your friends and family say it’s not okay. But talking to a trained counsellor can help you understand your gambling behaviour, think about how it affects you and other people in your life and consider options for change.