A person engages in gambling when he stakes something of value upon an event not within his control or influence, with the intention of winning something else of value. This is true even if the event is a game of chance or a contest of skill in which strategy is discounted. It is estimated that the amount of legal money wagered annually in the world is $10 trillion (illegal gambling may exceed this figure).
Gambling consists of three elements: consideration, risk, and prize. The value of the consideration, which is placed at risk, and the probability of a winning outcome are the factors that distinguish gambling from other leisure activities. However, a gambler can also lose, and he or she might do so in a way that affects his or her life in significant ways.
People gamble for many reasons, including social, financial, and entertainment. In addition to the thrill of possibly winning, it can be fun to fantasize about what one might do with a large sum of money. Some people, especially younger people, gamble to avoid boredom or loneliness. They might also be motivated by the desire to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as stress or depression. Often, these feelings are temporary and can be relieved in other ways, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.
While some people gamble for fun and are not affected by gambling problems, others become addicted to the activity and find it difficult to stop. This compulsive behavior can have serious consequences for the sufferer and their family. In severe cases, people may have to seek professional help or even enter a treatment facility.
The understanding of gambling disorders has undergone a profound change in recent years, paralleling the understanding of alcoholism and other addictions. A key component of this change has been the development of a common nomenclature for the diagnosis of gambling disorder. This has been stimulated by an increasing recognition that individuals who are unable to control their gambling have a psychological problem.
There are a number of effective treatments for gambling disorders, although they tend to have varying degrees of effectiveness. One reason for this is that different approaches to treating gambling problems employ eclectic theoretic conceptualizations of pathology, resulting in a lack of consensus about the underlying causes. It is hoped that more integrated and collaborative research efforts will result in more effective treatments for gambling disorders. Longitudinal studies are particularly useful for this purpose, because they allow researchers to identify the factors that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation over time. This type of study is more precise than cross-sectional studies and can provide more accurate causal inferences. A longitudinal design also reduces cost, since it provides data from a single group of participants for multiple analysis projects. This is particularly helpful when studying the effects of gambling on families and communities. The results of such studies may help develop better public policy regarding the regulation and promotion of gambling.