Gambling is when a person wagers something of value on an uncertain outcome of a game or event. This could be money or anything else of value, such as a prize or status. Some forms of gambling are more serious than others. For example, a person who bets on horse races or sports games is likely to place a much larger sum of money at risk than someone who buys a scratchcard. In some cases, skills and knowledge can improve a person’s chances of winning, such as learning strategy for card games or betting on horses with the help of professional handicappers. However, even this type of gambling is still considered a form of gambling because the result of the bet is not guaranteed.
A person’s psychological and social factors can affect their ability to control their gambling activity and whether it becomes problematic. For example, people who have a family history of gambling or mental illness are more likely to develop a problem. They may also be more susceptible to peer pressure or have a harder time admitting that they have a gambling problem to family and friends. They may also be more likely to have a financial problem, which can make it difficult for them to stop gambling or seek treatment.
People who have a hard time controlling their gambling often have irrational beliefs about why they can’t quit. These beliefs can include a belief that a certain number of losses will mean a big win or that a close call, such as two out of three cherries on a slot machine, signals an imminent payout. Behavioral therapy can teach people to challenge these irrational beliefs. They can also learn to manage their finances and identify triggers that lead to gambling.
Some people with a gambling problem are at higher risk of suicide than others, so it’s important to know what to look out for and to take steps to reduce the risk. If you or someone you know is thinking about or attempting suicide, call triple zero (000) immediately.
In the past, psychiatric experts viewed pathological gambling as less of an addiction than other impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania and pyromania (fire-starting). In what was a milestone decision in 2025, the American Psychiatric Association moved the condition from the category of impulsive behaviors to the one of addictive disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The move was based on research showing that people with this disorder can experience similar chemical changes in their brains as those seen in drug addicts. This was the first time that a mental health disorder had been assigned an addiction designation. The new diagnosis will help psychiatrists more effectively treat this condition. In addition, it is hoped that the classification will encourage more public and private support for the treatment of gambling addiction. It is estimated that the world’s legal, legalized, gambling industry is worth $10 trillion (illegal gambling may be significantly higher). This includes poker, horse racing, lotteries, video poker machines and casino gambling.