Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value to predict the outcome of a game involving chance, such as by placing a bet on a football team or buying scratchcards. If they are correct, they win money. If they are wrong, they lose it. It is a popular pastime and a large global industry. The practice has many risks, including addiction and other mental health problems. People gamble for a variety of reasons, such as the desire to win money, the adrenaline rush, socialising and escaping from worries or stress. It is important to recognise if gambling has become a problem and seek help if necessary.
A few percent of people who gamble develop a gambling disorder, which is a severe and chronic illness that causes significant distress and impairment. Gambling disorder is most common in men and younger people, although it can affect anyone. Vulnerability is increased by a family history of gambling disorders, other psychiatric illnesses and stressful life events. People on low incomes are particularly vulnerable to developing gambling disorders and are more likely to start gambling in their childhood or teenage years, which increases the likelihood of them becoming addicted.
Despite the prevalence of gambling and its associated psychological problems, the majority of people who gamble do not develop a problem. This may be because the odds of winning a prize are much higher than the probability of losing money, or because they gamble with small amounts of money that are not financially significant. The main treatment for gambling disorder is psychotherapy, which helps people to change their unhealthy thoughts and behaviours. Psychotherapy is a broad term that encompasses several different types of treatment techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT looks at how people think about betting and how they feel when they want to place a bet. For example, people who have a gambling disorder often believe that they are more likely to win than others, that certain rituals will bring them luck and that they can recover their losses by gambling again.
A longitudinal design is the best way to study gambling, as it allows researchers to identify and measure underlying factors that influence gambling participation. However, longitudinal studies are difficult to mount and are not widely used in gambling research because of the massive funding required for a multiyear commitment; difficulties with maintaining research team continuity over such a long time period; and issues with sample attrition and ageing effects (e.g., is a person’s increase in gambling behaviour due to aging or because of a new casino opening nearby?). Nevertheless, longitudinal research in gambling is gradually becoming more commonplace and sophisticated and theory-based.