What Is Gambling?


Gambling is an activity in which a person stakes something of value (usually money) on the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, with the intention of winning a prize. The term “gambling” is also used to describe games in which participants place wagers with non-monetary items such as marbles, poker chips, game pieces of collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Pogs, or even their iPods and video gaming devices. While some may consider these games to be gambling, others view them as legitimate and enjoyable pastimes.

Depending on the nature of the gamble and the rules of play, the stakes can be very low or high. In the United States, there are a variety of legal and illegal gambling activities, ranging from the purchase of a lottery ticket or playing cards to more professional events such as horse races, sports, dice, baccarat, or blackjack. While the majority of people engage in informal forms of gambling, some individuals have more serious problem behaviors and are classified as compulsive gamblers or gambling addicts. These individuals are often characterized by the following:

In addition to gambling for financial gain, many people gamble for personal satisfaction or to relieve unpleasant feelings. The euphoria that comes with the possibility of winning big can be addictive and trigger similar brain responses as drugs or alcohol. In fact, some researchers have found similarities between pathological gamblers and substance users in terms of brain chemistry, neuroimaging findings, and behavioral characteristics.

For some, gambling can become an addiction that negatively impacts their work life, family, and relationships. When this happens, it’s important to seek help. There are a number of different treatment options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT can teach you how to recognize and challenge unhealthy gambling thoughts and behavior. It can also teach you coping skills that will last a lifetime.

Other treatments include family and marriage counseling, career counseling, credit counseling, and debt management programs. In some cases, medication may be needed as well. It is also important to address any underlying mood disorders that could be contributing to the gambling disorder, such as depression or anxiety.

The first step in overcoming a gambling problem is to stop the behavior as soon as it becomes problematic. To do this, set limits for yourself about how much time and money you will spend on gambling. Make these limits clear and stick to them. Avoid lying to friends and family members about your gambling habits. Attempts to hide gambling can backfire and only serve to reinforce the problem. If you have trouble stopping, consider reaching out to a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. Also, remove any credit cards from your wallet, have someone else be in charge of your finances, close online gambling accounts, and keep only a small amount of cash on you at all times. Lastly, seek therapy to treat any underlying problems that contribute to your gambling problems.