Whether buying a lottery ticket, placing bets on horses or sports events, or playing the pokies (pokies), many people gamble at some point in their lives. However, for some the gambling habit can cause harm. The goal of this article is to help people understand how and why they gamble, so that they can better manage their gambling behaviour.

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value, where instances of strategy are discounted. It may be conducted with money or other material things of value, and it can be regulated by law.

While it is common to see people at casinos, racetracks and other commercial establishments gambling, it can also be carried out by groups of friends or family members. In some cases, the participants are not even aware that they are engaging in gambling activities.

The prevalence of gambling is reflected in its economic impact on society. The most significant source of revenue for the gaming industry is the taxes collected from the activity, followed by admissions and concessions. In addition, there are significant indirect impacts such as the effect on health, crime, and education.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a serious disorder that affects the lives of those who have it. It is characterized by recurrent and persistent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior, and it can be found in both men and women. It can begin in adolescence or young adulthood and develop into a problem several years later. PG can also be influenced by a person’s gender, as males are more likely to develop a PG diagnosis and tend to report problems with strategic and socially interactive forms of gambling.

Those who have a PG diagnosis often experience negative emotional states, such as anxiety or depression, and may also engage in risk-taking behaviors to alleviate these feelings. They may lie to their family, therapist or other professionals in order to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling; they may try to get back their losses by betting more than they can afford to lose; and they may use illegal means, such as forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement, to fund their gambling activities.

It is possible to stop gambling, but it takes tremendous strength and courage, especially if the behavior has resulted in financial loss or strained or broken relationships. Counselling can help a person explore the reasons why they gamble, think about their options and solve problems. It is important to find healthy ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. There are no medications approved to treat PG, but some antidepressants can help ease the symptoms of depression or anxiety that may be contributing to a gambling problem. Inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs are available for those who cannot control their gambling behavior without round-the-clock support.