Gambling involves risking something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome, such as a roll of dice or the spin of a roulette wheel. It also includes betting on sports events, like a football game or horse race. People often gamble for fun, but it can become a problem when the thrill of winning and loss of money become primary motivating factors. Gambling can cause significant emotional, social, and financial problems. It can even lead to criminal activity such as armed robbery, forgery, and embezzlement. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction to prevent it from affecting your life.

Gambling occurs in a wide variety of settings, including casinos, horse races, online, and in private games. Private gambling involves playing card games such as poker, blackjack, and spades with friends or family in a social setting, placing wagers for enjoyment and social interaction. Other examples of private gambling include putting money or chips on the results of a roll of dice, scratch-off tickets, or video poker. Some people even make bets on the outcomes of future events, such as a football game or a baseball season, for entertainment and social connection.

Many people develop a desire to gamble when they are depressed or anxious, which can be exacerbated by stressful events such as divorce, unemployment, or illness. Developing a gambling habit may also be a way to relieve boredom or stress, and some people find it difficult to stop because they feel they need the rush of winning to feel happy. People with gambling problems also frequently use the thrill of winning to fulfill basic human needs, such as the need for a sense of belonging or the desire for power and control. Casinos are built around this concept, encouraging customers to feel special and valued through elaborate marketing and reward programs.

A growing body of evidence suggests that gambling can be a behavioral disorder and should be evaluated for in primary care settings, just as other addictive behaviors are.1 Pathological gambling has been associated with depression, drug abuse, and poor physical health, and people with pathological gambling can experience the same negative consequences as those who have a substance use disorder.

To reduce your urges to gamble, start by cutting off your access to money and other resources that might tempt you. If you have a credit card, don’t keep it in your wallet or car, or give it to someone else to hold. Close any online betting accounts, and try to carry a maximum of cash when you go out for drinks, meals, or other forms of gambling. Don’t chase your losses either, thinking that you are “due for a win” or that you can just make it up next time. This is known as the chasing fallacy and can lead to serious financial problems. If you have a gambling problem, seek help from a professional therapist or support group.