Understanding Gambling and Gambling Problems


Gambling is an activity in which a person places money or other material valuables on an event involving chance, with the intention of winning something of value. The term includes wagers on games of chance, such as lottery tickets or scratchcards, and bets with friends or family members on sporting events or other competitions, such as horse races or football matches.

Gambling activities can involve any amount of money, from pennies to millions of dollars. They can occur in a variety of settings, including casinos, racetracks and other sports venues, and online. Some forms of gambling are illegal in certain jurisdictions.

Regardless of the form of gambling, all gambles involve risk and uncertainty. The odds of winning are always against the player. This is because gambling depends on random events, such as the roll of a dice, the spin of a roulette wheel or the outcome of a horse race, and the probability that these events will occur cannot be predicted with certainty.

The occurrence of a gambling problem may be related to genetic factors, such as an underactive brain reward system or a tendency to seek thrills and impulsive behavior. There are also cultural factors that can influence how a person views gambling and what constitutes a problem. Some cultures place a high value on gambling, making it more difficult for individuals to recognize a problem and seek help.

A major difficulty is the lack of a universal nomenclature for gambling and gambling problems. Research scientists, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers frame questions about gambling and gambling problems differently, reflecting their disciplinary training and worldviews.

It is important to distinguish between the different types of gambling. The distinction is crucial because there are a wide range of effective treatments for gambling problems, and because the definitions of what qualifies as “gambling” vary considerably from one country to another.

The terms pathological gambling and compulsive gambling are used to describe an illness characterized by problematic gambling behaviors that interfere with a person’s life. The term is based on the DSM-5’s new category of behavioral addictions and reflects current understanding that such disorders share features with substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and physiology. This change in understanding of gambling-related problems parallels the shift in how we think about alcoholism and alcoholics.