Gambling is the act of placing something of value at risk, usually money, on an event whose outcome may be determined by chance. It can be done through a variety of activities, such as betting on a horse race or sports game, playing the lottery, or using a slot machine. Some people also play games such as poker or blackjack where there is a skill element, but the majority of gambling is purely chance-based.
Gambling can be an addictive activity that can cause serious problems if it is not controlled. Many people with gambling addictions are able to recover on their own, but some need help from professionals to break the cycle of addiction. In severe cases, inpatient and residential treatment is available for those who are unable to stop gambling without round-the-clock support.
The term disordered gambling covers a wide range of behaviors, from those that are subclinical and at risk for developing more serious problems to those who meet the criteria for pathological gambling (PG) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Cognitive behavioural therapy can be helpful in treating gambling disorders. It looks at beliefs about betting and how these can affect behaviour. It can be useful in addressing thoughts that are unhelpful or harmful, such as believing you’re more likely to win than is actually true or assuming that certain rituals will bring good luck.
Another way in which gambling can be harmful is by causing debt. It is common for those with a gambling problem to use credit cards or loans to fund their gambling habit, and this can lead to mounting debts that are difficult to repay. It is important for anyone with a gambling problem to seek professional help before their debts spiral out of control.
There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the risks associated with gambling, including only spending money that you can afford to lose and setting time and financial limits for yourself when gambling. It’s also a good idea to avoid chasing your losses as this is a sure-fire way to make them worse.
You can also find ways to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways, such as exercising, socialising with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. Trying to overcome a gambling addiction takes tremendous strength and courage, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or have strained relationships as a result of your gambling habits. It’s worth remembering that many people have overcome a gambling problem and rebuilt their lives, so you can too. If you’re struggling with debt, speak to StepChange for free, confidential advice.