Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent of winning something else of value, where instances of strategy are discounted. It requires three elements: consideration, risk and a prize. For most people, gambling is an enjoyable activity and does not have adverse consequences. However, some people develop a problem that can have lasting effects on their life, including harming relationships with family and friends, their health, work performance and school/university results. It can also lead to serious debt and even homelessness.
Adverse consequences of gambling may involve both physical and emotional harm, as well as having a negative impact on the person’s social network, for example by alienating family and friends. It can also affect the person financially by causing debt and bankruptcies and, in severe cases, can cause suicide.
For many gamblers, especially those who have a gambling disorder, the urge to play can be strong, and it is difficult to stop on their own. For some people, seeking help from a counsellor is beneficial. Counselling can help a person think about how they are using their time and money, what they gain from gambling and how their behaviour is affecting them and those around them. Counselling can also help them identify what triggers their gambling, as well as learn coping strategies to manage the urge.
A key feature of gambling is that the player overestimates the relationship between their action and some uncontrollable outcome. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy. For example, if the die has landed on four in previous rolls it does not increase the probability that it will land on four again. This is because the die has no memory and because the outcomes of past events have no influence on future ones.
The psychology of gambling is complex and there are a range of factors that contribute to the development of a gambling disorder. Those who gamble compulsively often use a variety of coping strategies such as avoidance, denial and substance misuse. They also tend to place a high importance on the rewards of gambling, which can make it hard for them to stop.
Gambling can be a dangerous hobby, particularly for young people. Research shows that it can lead to a range of problems, including mental and physical health issues, poor performance at school or work, difficulties in relationships and financial distress. It can also have an impact on the wider community with a large number of suicides being linked to problematic gambling.
In recent years, understanding of the adverse consequences of excessive gambling has undergone profound change. For most of its history, individuals who experienced these problems were viewed as having a ‘gambling habit’, but today, we recognise that they have psychological problems. The psychiatric community has now classified pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, which is comparable to kleptomania and pyromania. The decision was made in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.