Gambling involves risking something of value for the chance to win something else of value. It stimulates the brain’s reward system in a similar way to drugs and alcohol, making it possible for people to develop an addiction to gambling. People who have a compulsive gambling disorder may continue to gamble even when it causes significant financial or emotional problems. They may lie to their friends and family, steal money or use other resources to fund their addiction. They may also engage in other behaviors that can be harmful, such as chasing losses or using illegal activities to support their gambling habit.
As access to gambling has expanded, psychologists have become increasingly concerned that more and more people will try it. For example, many states now allow sports betting, while video games are being developed that feature casino-like elements that can be played by anyone with a computer or mobile phone. In addition, online casinos offer a wide variety of casino-style games. These new forms of gambling are accessible to people of all ages and income levels, including young children. It’s easy to get hooked on these games, and the results of any bet are often determined by random chance, rather than a player’s skill or knowledge.
A recent study found that between 0.4 and 1.6% of Americans meet diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling (PG), which is defined by maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior. These patterns can cause severe distress and interfere with daily functioning. PG is more common in men than in women, and it often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. It is more likely to occur with strategic, face-to-face forms of gambling such as blackjack or poker and less frequently in nonstrategic, nonface-to-face forms such as slot machines or bingo.
Research suggests that a person is more likely to develop a problem with gambling if they have other mental health issues, such as depression or bipolar disorder. They are also more likely to gamble if they have a low income or are in financial crisis, which can make them feel desperate and depressed. People with these problems are also more likely to try to improve their financial situation by gambling, but this can lead to further debt and depression.
The best way to reduce the chances of developing a gambling problem is to avoid it altogether. Only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and never use money you need for essential expenses such as rent or bills. It’s also a good idea to balance gambling with other activities, such as exercising, spending time with friends, and volunteering. If you are struggling to control your finances, speak to StepChange for free debt advice. There are also support groups for people who have a gambling problem, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. Many communities also have local self-help groups for families of those with gambling problems, such as Gam-Anon.