What is Gambling and How Can it Affect You?


Gambling is a risky activity where you bet something, usually money, for the chance of winning. It includes betting on sports events, lotteries and other games of chance such as casino table games like blackjack and roulette.

People gamble for a number of reasons, including to socialise and escape from everyday worries and stress. But for some people, gambling can become an addiction that leads to serious financial problems. If you’re worried about someone who is gambling too much, talk to them about it. They may find it hard to admit they have a problem, but it could help to try and understand the situation and encourage them to seek professional advice or support.

The word ‘gambling’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘to wager’, meaning to risk something of value in exchange for an uncertain outcome. Traditionally, the stakes have been money but can also be possessions. The act of gambling has been around for centuries, and evidence of it was found in ancient China where tiles dated to 2,300 B.C. were used to play a rudimentary game of chance.

While gambling can provide excitement and euphoria, it’s important to remember that you have a real risk of losing everything you invest. In fact, the odds of winning are so low that the house always has an edge – which is why casinos do all they can to keep people playing as long as possible, from having no clocks in the premises to offering free drinks to keep people in their seats.

Many people gamble for fun and enjoy the thrill of winning, but for some it becomes a serious problem. People with gambling problems can harm their physical and mental health, relationships, performance at work or study and leave them in debt and homeless. Problem gambling is also linked to suicide, so if you ever feel unsafe or have thoughts of ending your life please call 999 or go to A&E immediately.

In the past, psychiatrists tended to see pathological gambling as a form of impulse control disorder, which is a similar but more specific label to kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). But recent research has shown that it is more closely related to substance use disorders, and so it has now been moved into the category of behavioral addictions in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s gambling habits, the first step is to get help. You can talk to a friend or family member, or you can visit the GamCare website for information and support. It’s important to only ever gamble with disposable income and never money you need to pay bills or rent. It’s also worth remembering that gambling can cause debt and financial difficulties, so if you’re struggling to manage your finances, speak to StepChange for free debt advice. You can also take our quick self-assessment and support finder to find the right service for you.