What Is Gambling?

Gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value (either money or personal possessions) for a chance to win an uncertain prize. It can be an entertaining diversion, but it can also become a serious problem that can destroy family relationships, strain employment and lead to financial ruin. There are many different ways to gamble, including playing card games or board games for small amounts of money, betting on sporting events or in the stock market, buying lottery tickets, or gambling online. Some people can gamble responsibly, while others have a tendency to lose control and end up with gambling problems.

The definition of gambling has undergone considerable change in recent years, with the understanding that it is a psychological disorder rather than an impulse control disorder. As a result, in the most current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (often abbreviated DSM), it has been classified as an addiction. This change reflects the similarity of pathological gambling to other addictions in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and treatment.

Although a significant number of people do not have gambling problems, those who do may experience adverse consequences that affect their health, work, school performance, or relationships. Problem gambling is not limited to monetary losses; it can involve any type of risk-taking, and can have negative effects on the emotions, physical health, and social life. In addition, a person who has a problem with gambling often lies about the extent of his or her involvement, and may even steal to fund the habit.

A person who has a problem with gambling usually feels the need to be secretive about his or her activities, because others do not understand the activity and feel that it is “funny” or that they will surprise people with a big winning streak. He or she often becomes preoccupied with gambling, thinking about past experiences, analyzing and handicapping the next venture, or looking for ways to get more money to gamble. In some cases, a person with a gambling disorder will even jeopardize a relationship or job in order to gamble more.

There are several reasons why people might gamble excessively, including sensation- and novelty-seeking, arousal, and a desire for complexity or variety. These reasons are rooted in behavioral disinhibition, and they can be exacerbated by other factors, such as depression or anxiety.

There are many models that have been advanced to explain pathological gambling, including a general theory of addictions, the reward deficiency syndrome, behavioral-environmental reasons, and a biopsychosocial model. However, it is important to note that no single model adequately explains the emergence of pathological gambling. Instead, a number of theories and paradigms have been developed that reflect varying interests and world views among research scientists, psychiatrists, other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers.