Gambling involves betting something of value (money, items, services) on an uncertain outcome. It is an activity that is both legal and illegal in many countries and it is a huge international commercial enterprise. The amount of money that is legally wagered annually around the world is estimated to be over $10 trillion. The majority of gambling occurs through state-licensed lotteries, which are widespread throughout Europe and North America, as well as in regulated sports betting markets such as those for soccer (football) and horse racing.
The majority of people who gamble do not develop a problem. However, a significant subset of those who gamble end up developing gambling disorder, which is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a recurrent pattern of compulsive gambling that causes distress or impairment. People with gambling disorders often engage in harmful behaviors, such as lying to family members and coworkers or spending money they don’t have. They may also spend large amounts of time gambling, even when it interferes with their relationships and job. Those with gambling disorders also tend to have underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, that can contribute to or be made worse by gambling.
Many people who have a gambling addiction will try to recover on their own before seeking professional help. Some will join a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step recovery program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of the program is finding a sponsor, or a former gambler who has experience remaining free from gambling and can provide guidance and support. For those who have severe addictions, inpatient treatment and rehab programs are available.
Although most people who have a gambling problem are men, women can also develop problems. People in lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to develop a gambling disorder than those in higher social classes. And young people, especially adolescents and teenagers, are more likely to develop problems than adults.
In general, the risk of developing a gambling disorder is higher for those who have a family history of addiction or other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Gambling disorders can also be caused by drugs or alcohol abuse and by stress, and they can occur in combination with other addictions such as substance abuse or eating disorders. In addition, gambling can be a source of income for criminal organizations and mafia-style organizations, such as loan sharks. For these reasons, it is important for adolescents and teens to be educated about the risks of gambling. They should be taught about the importance of making responsible financial decisions, as well as about the impact of gambling on their families, schools and communities. They should also be encouraged to participate in other activities that can lead to positive outcomes, such as volunteering and education. They should be taught to recognize warning signs of a gambling problem, such as lying to family and friends or using credit cards to fund gambling.