Gambling involves risking something of value – such as money or possessions – on an event that has an element of randomness, chance or skill and the intention to win. It can take many forms, including betting on football accumulators, scratchcards, lottery tickets or online casino games. It can also involve speculating on business, insurance or stock markets.

Problem gambling – or, more accurately, gambling disorder – is defined as behaviour that causes significant distress and disruption to daily life. It can impact relationships with family and friends, work or study, and cause people to become homeless. It is a recognised mental health disorder and can affect anyone. There is no single cause, but factors include trauma and social inequality (particularly in women).

It is possible to gamble responsibly. However, there is a strong link between gambling and mental health problems. Many people with depression or anxiety will also have a tendency to gamble. This can be a way to distract themselves from their feelings, but it can lead to serious financial problems and addiction.

Some people will never experience a gambling problem, but for those who do, it is important to seek help. Those with gambling disorders are more likely to experience other mental health problems, such as depression or bipolar, and may be at higher risk of suicide. It is vital to get treatment and support for these conditions, and it’s also helpful for families to understand what to look out for.

Gambling is addictive because it hijacks the brain’s learning mechanism through random rewards. There are several steps to becoming addicted to gambling:

A decision to gamble: This is a crucial step, and often comes from a feeling of excitement or euphoria. It can be difficult to stop gambling, but there are ways to reduce your urges, such as limiting the amount of time you spend on betting websites or having someone else manage your finances.

Taking action: If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling with gambling, it’s important to reach out for help. There are many different treatments available, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy and group therapy. CBT is particularly useful for people with gambling problems because it can address beliefs about gambling, such as the belief that certain rituals increase your chances of winning, or the illusion that you can win back any losses by gambling more.

Accepting that you have a problem can be very difficult, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships. But it’s important to remember that many others have been in the same situation and have overcome their addiction. It’s also important to seek support for yourself if you are worried about your own gambling habits or those of your friends and family. BetterHelp is an online service that matches you with licensed therapists to discuss your concerns. You can be assessed and matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours.