Gambling involves wagering something of value on an event that is purely random, with the intent to win something else of value. It requires consideration, risk, and a prize (Peters & Griffiths 2007). The amount of money wagered on legal gambling activities around the world is estimated at $10 trillion. The majority of people enjoy gambling as a form of entertainment, but for some individuals, it can become both addictive and problematic with serious negative consequences.
A variety of psychological and behavioral treatments have been developed to help individuals with compulsive gambling. Generally, these are designed to change unhealthy thinking patterns and behavior, such as impulsiveness and rationalizations, that can contribute to gambling addiction. Treatment may also include identifying and addressing any underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder that are contributing to problem gambling. In addition to therapy, some treatment programs may involve medication, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, or group support, such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.
Several studies have investigated the prevalence of gambling in the general population. These have been conducted both in the United States and abroad. The most rigorous studies have used longitudinal design, which follows a cohort of individuals over time. This allows researchers to better understand the onset and development of both normative and pathological gambling behaviors, as well as determine the effects of various factors on an individual’s participation in gambling over the long term.
Most of the current research on gambling involves estimating the prevalence of pathological gambling. Specifically, it is estimated that between 2% and 4% of the American population meets the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) criteria for pathological gambling. This definition includes the following: (1) the person engages in repeated, uncontrollable gambling; (2) gambles to escape from reality; (3) experiences a preoccupation with gambling; (4) lies to family members or therapists to conceal the extent of his or her involvement in gambling; (5) commits illegal acts, such as forgery or theft, to finance gambling; and (6) jeopardizes a relationship, job, education, or career opportunity due to gambling.
Whether it’s lottery tickets, scratch-offs, video poker, or betting on a football game, many forms of gambling are available in most communities. Although it is important to remember that the odds are always against you, the excitement and gratification of winning can be addictive. In the United States, there are state-sponsored lotteries and organized football pools, while regulated sports betting is available in most European countries and Australia. In most cases, you will lose more money than you win; however, it is possible to maximize your chances of winning by limiting your spending and playing responsibly. You can also learn to manage your finances, and be sure to set aside enough money for other activities. In the end, if you are still unable to stop gambling, it is time to seek professional help.