A person gambles when they stake something of value (often money or possessions) on an event that is determined at least in part by chance with the intention of winning something else of value. Gambling can also be done with materials that have a monetary value but are not money, such as marbles, collectible game pieces in games such as Pogs and Magic: The Gathering, or the virtual currency in online gaming. Gambling is a major international commercial activity and an important source of income for many people, with the global legal gambling market estimated to be worth around $335 billion in 2009.
Problem gambling is an excessive or harmful pattern of gambling that affects a person’s mental health, relationships, work or school performance. It can also have negative effects on a family’s finances, health and well-being. Problem gambling is considered to be an illness and may be treated using various types of therapy including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.
In the past, gamblers were often referred to as sharpers or crooks for their fraudulent activities and unsavory reputation. However, in modern times, the word has come to be used more generally to describe anyone who plays for money, especially those who play for high stakes.
The Psychiatric Manual of Mental Disorders defines gambling as “an activity in which a person wagers something of value on an uncertain outcome based upon chance.” It adds that there are three essential elements to gambling: consideration, risk, and a prize. Historically, the term has been used to refer to playing cards or board games with a deck of cards, such as poker, blackjack, and baccarat. However, modern technology has allowed for the development of other forms of gambling that include betting on horse and greyhound races, football accumulators, elections and bingo.
Psychiatrists have debated how to categorize gambling problems and whether they are best described as a disorder or a spectrum. The nascent research that does exist suggests that some segments of the population are at greater risk for developing gambling disorders than others, particularly younger men.
Some people can stop gambling on their own. If your urge to gamble becomes too much, try taking a break, calling someone for support or attending a self-help meeting for gambling addicts such as Gamblers Anonymous. If you can’t stop gambling completely, then limit your access to credit cards or put someone else in charge of your money, close betting accounts and keep only a small amount of cash on you. It can also help to postpone gambling and seek out other enjoyable activities instead. For example, going for a walk or playing a computer game can distract you from the temptation to gamble. You can also find useful self-help resources and advice on our gambling help pages.