Gambling is a form of betting on events with uncertain outcomes. It involves risking something of value (money, property, etc.) on an event with a random outcome, where instances of skill are discounted. Gambling is illegal in some jurisdictions and has been linked to addiction, crime, family problems, and even suicide.
While most people who gamble do so responsibly, a small percentage develop gambling disorders. Adolescents and young adults are particularly susceptible to gambling disorders, with up to 5% of those who start gambling developing a disorder. In addition, people with low incomes are more likely to be vulnerable to gambling disorders, because they have more to lose than those with higher incomes.
The brain’s natural response to winning is to feel excited, but the same neurological reaction occurs when losing, so compulsive gamblers can find it difficult to stop. They may also engage in risk-taking behavior, such as borrowing money to continue gambling or spending more than they can afford to lose, to try to get back the money they’ve lost. They may even hide their gambling habits from friends and family members.
People who are addicted to gambling often put their own financial well-being and those of their families at risk, resulting in severe problems such as bankruptcy or homelessness. They can also create social issues by prioritizing their gambling activities over other responsibilities, such as work and caring for children. This can strain relationships and make them feel betrayed and resentful, leading to long-term problems.
Research has found that a number of factors are associated with problem gambling, including personality and genetic traits, life circumstances, and environmental factors. Problem gambling is most prevalent among people with a history of psychiatric or emotional difficulties, traumatic childhood experiences, or poor family functioning. It is also more common in men and young people.
While there are no definitive tests for diagnosing a gambling disorder, researchers use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for gambling disorders. These criteria include symptoms such as impaired control, preoccupation with gambling, restlessness or irritability when not gambling, and significant changes in mood or behavior related to gambling. In addition, a person must experience significant impairment in social or occupational functions to be diagnosed with a gambling disorder.
Many people who have a problem with gambling also have other disorders, such as substance abuse or depression. Gambling is one of the most dangerous activities for people with a co-occurring diagnosis, and it’s important to seek help for both disorders together if possible.
Longitudinal studies of gambling are becoming more common and sophisticated, but there are still some obstacles to overcome. For example, funding can be difficult for multiyear longitudinal studies; it’s also challenging to maintain a research team over a prolonged time period and to avoid sampling attrition. In addition, there are practical and ethical barriers to conducting longitudinal gambling studies. Nevertheless, longitudinal data are increasingly being used to inform gambling policy and regulation.