Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that is determined, at least in part, by chance. It can be fun and exciting, but it is important to remember that all gambling activities carry a risk of losing money. It is also important to recognise that gambling can be addictive and that, even if you do not have a gambling problem, it may be difficult for you to control your gambling behaviour and protect yourself from harm.
While most people gamble without any problems, a small proportion of people develop pathological gambling (PG), which is defined by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviour that are associated with significant distress or impairment. PG usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood and affects men more often than women, although both men and women can be affected.
Several different factors can influence the development and severity of harmful gambling behaviour. The type of gambling and the environment in which it is undertaken may be influential, as can social and family factors. The way in which the gambling activity is organised and regulated, and the availability of harm reduction strategies, can also be important.
Research into the effects of gambling on individuals, families and communities has used a variety of methodologies. The most reliable approach is longitudinal, which collects data over a period of time and allows for the identification of trends and relationships that may not be evident in a single snapshot of an individual’s gambling behaviour.
Although most people think of casinos and pokies when they hear the word ‘gambling’, it is important to remember that any type of gambling can be harmful. Bingo, lotteries, buying sports or horse racing tickets and office pools are all forms of gambling and can lead to problems. In addition, the internet has made it easier than ever to access casino games and place bets from anywhere in the world at any time of day.
The first step to controlling your gambling is recognizing that you have a problem. This can be a very difficult thing to admit, especially if you have lost a lot of money or have strained or broken relationships as a result of your gambling. The next step is to do everything you can to break your gambling habit. This can include talking about your problem with someone you trust and who won’t judge you – this could be a friend, family member or professional counsellor. Other things you can do include reducing financial risk factors such as using credit cards, taking out loans and carrying large amounts of cash; avoiding gambling venues as a place to socialise and not using gambling to relieve stress; and filling the gap that gambling has left in your life with new activities or hobbies. You can also find support online and in peer support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.