Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value (money, property or other assets) with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on an uncertain event. It is an activity that is regulated by state and federal laws and may be carried out in casinos, racetracks, online or by mail-order. The activity of gambling is also widely practiced by organized lotteries, charitable events, private enterprises and social organizations. The term is also used to describe the betting on horse racing, sports events, television or political contests, and even to refer to the purchasing of insurance.
In addition to the obvious pleasures of winning money, gambling can give rise to feelings of euphoria and excitement. However, gambling is a very dangerous activity that can cause severe problems in one’s personal and family life. It can devastate a person’s finances, damage their health, ruin their relationships and career, and even lead to bankruptcy and homelessness.
Problem gamblers often start to develop symptoms in adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms of pathological gambling (PG) include: – frequent and unsuccessful attempts to control gambling behavior; – restlessness or irritability in the absence of gambling; – a preoccupation with gambling and thoughts of gambling activities; – a need for larger wager sizes in order to maintain excitement levels during gambling; – lying to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of gambling activities; – engaging in illegal acts, such as forgery or theft, to finance gambling; or – jeopardizing a relationship or job opportunity in order to engage in gambling (American Psychiatric Association 1994).
Research on the subject of gambling is difficult to conduct because of the numerous factors that can influence gambling behaviour and outcomes. Longitudinal studies of individuals over a period of time are necessary to determine the underlying causes of gambling behaviour and its effects. Several practical difficulties must be overcome in order to conduct such studies, including the financial cost of a longitudinal study; the difficulty of maintaining research team continuity over a lengthy period of time; and the problem of attrition.
A variety of treatments are available for those suffering from a gambling addiction, including group therapy and individual psychotherapy. Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling can also help. In addition, it is important to seek treatment for any underlying mood disorders that may trigger or worsen gambling disorder. This will not only help to resolve the gambling problem, but can also improve other areas of a person’s life, such as their work and relationships. These services are provided by many local and national mental health centers, hospitals, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and community-based non-profit organizations. They are usually covered by health insurance. In some cases, these services are free of charge. In other cases, a nominal fee is charged. A person can contact these organizations directly or can ask his or her doctor for a referral. There are also a number of self-help books available that provide information and support for those struggling with gambling problems.