Gambling is the wagering of something of value (money, property or services) on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. People may participate in gambling activities in a variety of settings, including commercial establishments such as casinos and racetracks, as well as social events like card games, lottery draws, or football matches. In order to be considered a gamble, an activity must involve consideration of risk and prize, with instances of strategy discounted.

Problem gambling occurs when someone becomes too involved with gambling to the point that it affects their daily functioning and causes negative personal, family or financial effects. A person who has a gambling problem is often unable to control their urges and has difficulty stopping gambling, even when they experience significant problems or losses. They may be secretive about their gambling or lie to others in an attempt to conceal their involvement. They are characterized by feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression. They often return to gambling after a loss in an effort to get even (“chasing their losses”), and they may use illegal or unethical means to finance their gambling (such as theft, forgery or embezzlement) (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

People who have trouble controlling their gambling may find it helpful to seek treatment from a counselor or therapist who can teach them coping skills and help them develop healthy coping mechanisms. They can also learn to recognize the warning signs of a gambling problem, such as lying about their gambling or spending more money than they have available. People who have trouble recognizing when they are in danger of a gambling problem should consider getting support from family or friends. It can be difficult to help a loved one with a gambling addiction, but it is important for family members and friends to understand that they are not alone and that many people have successfully dealt with problem gambling.

It is also essential for family and friends to set boundaries around their own finances, especially when they are helping a loved one with a gambling problem. This can include not funding gambling activities or lending them money, and establishing limits on how much time is spent gambling. They should also avoid encouraging their loved one to gamble by telling them that winning is possible, or that they have a “good eye.”

Understanding the factors that contribute to problematic gambling can lead to better prevention and treatment. For example, researchers have found that some people have a genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behavior and impulsivity. Additionally, research shows that certain brain regions are associated with weighing risk and reward.