The Basics of Gambling

Gambling is an activity in which people place bets on the outcome of a game or event. It can be done in casinos, lotteries and online. It is a common pastime, but it can also cause harm.

Psychiatrists once viewed pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder, alongside kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). But in a move hailed as landmark, the American Psychiatric Association moved it to the addictions chapter in its DSM.


Gambling is the act of placing a bet on something that can result in a loss or a gain. It is the most common form of betting, and it can be done for fun or with real money. It has been around for centuries and is a popular pastime in many cultures. It can take many forms, from dice games to slot machines to sports betting. In the United States, gambling has had a complicated history. It was banned by law for decades, but it has since become legal again.

The origins of gambling are unknown, but it is believed that humans have a natural tendency to place bets. Anthropologists have found evidence of rudimentary gambling games in ancient China, Egypt, and Greece. In ancient times, people threw dice to decide matters of fate. They also credited Gods and mythological heroes with the invention of gambling. The ancient Egyptians thought that the God Thoth invented gambling. In the Greek Mythology, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades threw dice to determine their parts of the universe.


Most adults and adolescents have placed a bet, but not everyone who gambles develops a problem. People with gambling disorder have a preoccupation with gambling; difficulty controlling their actions; and repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control or stop gambling (Rosenthal and Lesieur, 1992). They may also spend more money than they can afford; lie to others to cover their gambling debts; experience irritability and restlessness when they try to quit; or rely on other people to fund their gambling activities or replace losses.

Gamblers often use gambling as a way to distract themselves or escape from negative feelings. They may also have a history of mental health problems or secondary addictions to alcohol and drugs.

It is not unusual for people with a gambling disorder to have suicidal thoughts or feelings. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, speak to a trusted friend or relative, or contact StepChange for free and confidential debt advice.


The most important first step in treating gambling is admitting you have a problem, which may be difficult for some people. Once you’ve done that, you can seek treatment for any underlying conditions that may be contributing to your addiction. These could include other mood disorders such as depression or substance abuse, or health issues like ADHD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for gambling problems focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts. It can teach you how to fight gambling urges and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by your gambling.

Guided self-help interventions, such as information workbooks paired with a phone call from a helpline specialist, clergy, or community health worker, also have shown promise in reducing gambling. However, many of these studies use small sample sizes and lack a control group. Penna’s randomized controlled trial found that the personalized feedback intervention reduced the maximum amount of money spent and gambling severity at follow-up. Exercise programs have been shown to improve depression, anxiety, and stress levels, which can also reduce gambling cravings.


Approximately 6 million adults—three percent of the population—engage in problem gambling, and this behaviour is associated with significant health consequences. This basics workshop identifies risk factors and opportunities to intervene.

Prevention strategies can include self-exclusion, setting monetary limits or time limitations and preventing access to gambling venues. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of these protective behaviours and a need for further research on them.

Relapse prevention involves teaching people to identify and cope with high-risk situations that trigger gambling behaviours, such as environmental settings and intrapersonal discomfort (e.g., boredom or stress). Several studies have used relapse prevention in conjunction with interventions designed to reduce gambling.

If you have concerns about someone else’s gambling, it is helpful to talk with them about their issues and encourage them to seek counselling help. However, be sensitive as many people with gambling problems struggle to recognise their problem and are in denial about their gambling.