Gambling involves betting something of value (money, property or valuable material) on a game of chance where winnings are determined by luck. The game of chance is often played with cards, dice or other objects, but can also be a race, a sporting event, a lottery or a casino game. There are many reasons why people gamble, such as the excitement of winning, socialising or escaping from stress and worries. For some, however, gambling can become a serious problem and have devastating consequences for their lives and those around them.

A growing number of countries are legalising and regulating gambling, which has led to an increase in the availability of games. In addition, online casinos offer the potential to reach customers in places where physical gambling establishments are banned or restricted by law. While it is important to regulate gambling, it is equally vital that we understand its psychological and socioeconomic impact in order to make informed decisions about the regulation of this activity.

The American Psychiatric Association has recently redefined the term pathological gambling, and moved it from an impulse control disorder into the addictions chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is estimated that between 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet the criteria for a pathological gambling diagnosis. This decision was a landmark one and it has already changed the way psychiatrists treat people with this problem.

Like other addictive behaviours, gambling is a complex phenomenon with many interacting variables. Studies using longitudinal designs are the best way to identify and measure these variables and determine their effects on an individual’s gambling participation. These methods use data collected over a long period of time, which can help identify the factors that moderate or exacerbate gambling participation and may thus lead to the development of better policies for preventing and treating gambling problems.

People with a gambling problem are at risk for a variety of health and societal impacts, including financial instability, criminal activities, family conflict, substance abuse, depression and suicide. These issues can be addressed through a combination of treatment and self-help strategies, including counselling and self-regulatory tools.

A key to reducing the harm caused by gambling is to avoid gambling with money that you need for other purposes, such as paying bills or for food. It is also helpful to allocate a specific amount of your disposable income for gambling, and never use the same money you need for other things. Another helpful strategy is to set a specific time limit for each session, and stop when you reach it. It is easy to lose track of time when gambling, as casinos are usually free of clocks and windows, but you can help yourself by bringing an alarm with you or setting reminders in your phone. Finally, you should always try to remember that gambling is only supposed to be a form of entertainment and you should only ever gamble with money you can afford to lose.