Gambling is an activity in which individuals place a bet on the outcome of a game or event in which they can win something of value. It can take many forms, from lottery games to online casino games. For some, gambling can be an entertaining pastime, while for others it can cause serious financial and personal problems. If you are concerned about the risks of gambling, there is help available.
Lottery games are a popular form of gambling worldwide, with a rough estimate of $10 trillion in legal wagers per year (illegal gambling may be considerably higher). Lotteries are organized by state and national governments and are typically operated by private businesses. Some countries also offer organized sports gambling, including football pools and betting on other sports events, such as horse races or baseball games.
While the vast majority of gamblers enjoy gambling and do not experience problem behaviour, for some people it can become an addictive activity. Compulsive gambling is an extreme version of this, where people feel compelled to gamble despite the harm it causes them and are willing to go to great lengths to do so. They will often spend beyond their means, hide their spending and even steal to fund their gambling.
A range of factors can affect someone’s risk of developing gambling problems, from recreational interest and impaired mathematical skills to poor judgment and cognitive distortions. There is also a strong association between gambling and mental illness, particularly depression, and those with a mental health condition are at greater risk of harmful gambling behaviour.
Some people who gamble develop a gambling disorder, also known as pathological gambling (PG). This is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that lead to negative consequences for the gambler and his or her family and friends. It is associated with high comorbidity with substance abuse disorders and can have a severe impact on the person’s quality of life.
Historically, the understanding of problem gambling and the causes of PG has varied greatly. Research scientists, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers have framed the issue differently, reflecting their disciplinary training and world views. This has resulted in a variety of paradigms or world views that have influenced how gambling is understood and debated.
Longitudinal studies of gambling are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated, but they are still very rare. This is due to the large amount of funding needed for multiyear longitudinal research, concerns about retaining research teams over such a long period and the knowledge that longitudinal data confound time effects (e.g., changes in gambling behavior over a person’s life span). In spite of these challenges, there is an increasing recognition that longitudinal studies are the most useful method for studying gambling and its impacts on individuals and society. The goal is to understand the influences on gambling participation, so that informed interventions can be developed. This will require collaboration among researchers across disciplines.