Gambling involves wagering money or something else of value on an event involving chance, with the intention of winning a prize. It’s common for adults and adolescents to gamble, and most do so without problems. However, a small subset of people develop pathological gambling (PG), defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent and recurrent pattern of maladaptive behaviour that causes significant distress or impairment. PG is also more likely to occur among low-income people, and young people, especially boys and men, are more susceptible than women.
Vulnerability to gambling is also linked to personality factors, like risk-taking and reward-seeking behaviours, and can be compounded by a person’s environment and culture. In particular, some communities may think of gambling as a “traditional pastime”, making it harder to recognise that someone has a problem and seek help. Biological factors, including variations in the way people’s brains process rewards and control impulses, can also be important.
If you or a loved one has a gambling problem, it’s essential to get support and set limits on how much you’re willing to lose. Try reaching out to a friend or family member for support, joining a gambling support group, or seeing a therapist. In addition, there are national and state-based helplines and other resources to help you. Some research shows that physical activity can help reduce the urge to gamble, so be sure to include this in your daily routine.