How Gambling Can Affect Your Health and Well-Being

Gambling involves wagering something of value (the stakes) on a random event with the intent to win more money or something else of value. It is a common recreational activity that is legal in some places and prohibited by law in others. It can be conducted with money or items of value other than money, such as marbles used in a game of marbles or trading cards used in Magic: The Gathering. In addition, it can be conducted with time, such as placing bets on future events or an entire sports season.

People can be addicted to gambling for a variety of reasons. For some it is a form of escapism, providing a temporary high that can ease anxiety. For others, it may be a way to gain a sense of control over their lives. It can also be used for coping reasons such as to forget problems or to feel more confident. For many people, it is a social activity and they may feel the need to fit in with their peers, who also gamble. Casinos have been known to encourage this sense of belonging through elaborate marketing and reward programs.

While some forms of gambling are more addictive than others, all types can have an adverse impact on a person’s health and well-being. The risk of addiction increases with the amount of time spent gambling and with the amounts wagered, as well as if a person is influenced by irrational beliefs, such as believing that a string of losses or a near miss on a slot machine will eventually be followed by a big win.

In the United States, where most states have legalised gambling, it is estimated that about 20 million people are considered to be problem gamblers, with some having a severe gambling disorder. The number of problem gamblers is increasing as gambling becomes more accepted and accessible.

It is important to recognise the warning signs of a gambling problem, which can include hiding or lying about the extent of the person’s gambling activity, withdrawing from friends and family, becoming irritable and angry with them, becoming secretive, hiding cash or even their computer or mobile phone and lying to other people. People who have a serious gambling problem often need help from a specialist treatment provider.

In the past, people who were addicted to gambling were viewed as having a personality disorder. Now, however, scientists know much more about the biology of gambling and have discovered that it can cause dramatic changes in the way the brain sends chemical messages. These changes are similar to those caused by a substance like alcohol or drugs, so pathological gambling is now recognised as an addiction akin to a drug dependency. This change is reflected in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, called DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association. This new understanding of gambling has made it possible to develop better treatment options for the problem.