Gambling is an activity in which participants risk something of value, such as money, goods or services, in the hope of gaining something in return. It may be done alone or with others. The reasons people gamble are many and varied. Some people gamble for the thrill of winning, while others do it to relieve boredom or as a way to socialize. Many people also enjoy gambling because it changes their moods and causes feelings of euphoria. These feelings are the result of the brain’s reward system responding to the release of dopamine when a person wins. It is important to understand that a person’s brain can become dependent on these rewarding chemicals, so it is easy for them to begin feeling addicted to gambling.
Gambling can have negative effects on a person’s health and well-being, including increased depression and anxiety and poorer performance at school, work or in other activities. It can also lead to serious debt and homelessness. For these reasons, it is important to recognize when gambling has become a problem and seek treatment.
There are several ways to help someone overcome a gambling addiction, including therapy, support groups and medications. Counseling can help a person identify and examine their own behaviors, understand why they are gambling, and think about options for change. Medication can help treat the underlying depression or anxiety that may be causing a person to gamble. It can also reduce the symptoms of gambling withdrawal.
Until recently, the psychiatric community has generally regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an impulse control disorder like kleptomania or trichotillomania (hair pulling). In its latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association decided to move the behavior into a new category on behavioral addictions. This move reflects the growing recognition that the condition is similar to substance-related disorders in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and physiology.
Studies on gambling’s impacts tend to focus on monetary or economic costs and benefits at the individual, interpersonal and societal levels. However, a more holistic approach to the issue is needed. For example, studies on social impacts should incorporate the use of disability weights or health-related quality of life measures to discover hidden costs and benefits of gambling for gamblers and their significant others.
Interpersonal and societal level costs of gambling are mostly non-monetary in nature, but they do exist. Those costs include the cost of losing money, the costs associated with gambling on family relationships, and the loss of social capital. These costs are not well-recognized. They also include the effects of a gambler’s increased debt and financial strain on other members of society, such as their families, friends and work colleagues. In addition, the effects of gambling can be influenced by public services. The research gap on these effects should be filled to help inform policy-making decisions.