Gambling is a recreational activity involving placing something of value on an event that is determined by chance. The objective of gambling is to win money or goods by risking something of value, usually with the hope that it will increase in value in the future (a gain). Historically, a wide range of materials have been used as stakes for wagers; these include coins, beads, shells, animal parts and pieces of wood. Modern gambling involves a great deal of skill and strategy as well as luck. It is a major international industry. Problem gambling can cause serious problems for an individual and family members, and it is important to seek help if you think you may have a gambling addiction.
Symptoms of gambling addiction include a compulsion to gamble despite negative consequences, preoccupation with gambling, lying to friends and family about the extent of involvement in gambling, and relying on others to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling. In addition, a person with a gambling addiction might have suicidal thoughts and tends to engage in illegal activities such as forgery, fraud, embezzlement or theft to finance his or her habit.
The most common types of gambling are horse and greyhound racing, football accumulators, lottery games, slot machines and video poker. People also gamble online using a variety of websites. Some of these sites offer free play to encourage new players, while others charge a fee for access. Some of these sites are operated by legitimate businesses while others are run by criminal gangs that target vulnerable individuals.
Gambling can be a source of emotional distress, as it is often associated with feelings of boredom, anxiety or low mood. Furthermore, the onset of gambling can be triggered by environmental cues such as flashing lights or the chime of coins. These become conditioned stimuli through Pavlovian processes and reinforce gambling behaviour. Moreover, the act of gambling can lead to physiological arousal resulting in an increase in heart rate and elevated cortisol levels. These effects are also induced by a variety of drugs including cocaine and amphetamine.
There are two dominant approaches to understanding gambling behaviour: a cognitive and a psychobiological one. The cognitive approach has identified a number of erroneous beliefs that lead gamblers to overestimate their chances of winning. The psychobiological approach has examined case-control studies of pathological gamblers and healthy controls and found alterations in the neurotransmitter system involving dopamine, particularly in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum.
Many people who have trouble with gambling do not get the help they need because they are in denial about their problem. If you are worried about someone you know, try reaching out to them in a non-gambling way such as by joining a book club or sports team, attending a class on emotional wellbeing, volunteering for a charity or offering to take over some of their chores. If this fails, try reaching out to a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on a twelve-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.