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Gambling 101


Whether it’s buying lotto tickets, betting on horse races or sports events, playing online pokies or visiting a casino, almost everyone gambles at some time. But, if your gambling is damaging your relationships, health or financial situation then it might be time to get help. There are many ways to get help including treatment, support groups and self-help tips. Understanding how gambling works can also help you change your behaviour and be more responsible.

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent to win something else of value where instances of strategy are discounted. It is a common international pastime and a major source of income, both legal and illegal. While it most commonly involves money, stakes may be anything of value including marbles, cards, or even video game pieces. In addition to the monetary value, gambling can often be psychologically addictive.

Although not as common as addictions to drugs or alcohol, pathological gambling is still a significant problem in the United States and around the world. It is characterized by an impaired ability to control one’s impulses and compulsive desire to gamble. It can lead to financial ruin, relationship problems, job loss, and even suicide. Pathological gambling can affect people of all ages and is a leading cause of preventable mental illness.

The psychiatric community has historically regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. However, in a move that has been hailed as a milestone, the APA recently moved pathological gambling to the Addictions section of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The change signals a new understanding of the biological underpinnings of addiction and will improve the way psychiatrists treat it.

Despite the glamour of casinos and their promise of wealth, a large percentage of gamblers lose money. Some are driven to gamble by a need for instant gratification, while others are delusional and believe they are more likely to win than is actually the case. The gambler’s fallacy, the belief that a previous loss will be overcome by subsequent winnings, is particularly destructive.

People gamble for a variety of reasons, including the adrenaline rush, socialising or escaping from worries and stress. But, it is important to remember that all forms of gambling are risky and you should only gamble with a set amount of money that you can afford to lose. This will help you avoid becoming addicted to gambling and limit the harm that it can have on your life. If you are concerned about your gambling, talk to your doctor who can refer you for treatment which includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type of treatment looks at beliefs that can contribute to problem gambling and changes how you think and behave when you gamble. For more information about treatment, see our self-help guides. You can access them here. You can also download a fact sheet that discusses the types of treatment available, including CBT, and where to find help in your area.

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