What Is Gambling?

Gambling is an activity wherein a person places something of value, usually money, on the outcome of a random event. It is a form of risk-taking and can involve many types of events including lotteries, casinos (e.g. blackjack, roulette, video poker), horse racing, and sports betting. The prize can range from nothing to a life-changing jackpot. Gambling is also considered an addictive behavior when it leads to significant problems, harms, or escalating consequences. It may be associated with a number of psychiatric disorders including impulsivity, impaired control, poor judgment, and cognitive distortions. It can negatively impact one’s physical and mental health, relationships, work or study performance, and can result in debt and homelessness.

It is important to understand that not everyone who gambles becomes addicted to it. Some people gamble for fun, for a social activity with friends, or for a chance at winning big. Others do it for coping reasons – to forget their problems or to feel better. For example, a person may play the lottery, scratch-offs or games like marbles or Magic: The Gathering to relieve boredom or unpleasant emotions such as anxiety or sadness. Often, people who are not addicted to gambling find other ways to deal with their feelings, such as exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble or taking up a hobby.

Some people may develop an addiction to gambling if they are predisposed to it, which is why it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Some of the warning signs include being secretive about your gambling, lying to family and friends, hiding or borrowing money to gamble, being compelled to keep gambling even when you are losing, and upping your bets in an attempt to win back lost funds.

People who have a problem with gambling can get help from professional counselors or support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous. There are also self-help books available, and some research shows that physical activity can be beneficial for those with gambling problems.

Although there are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorder, some prescription drugs may be helpful in treating co-occurring conditions. However, counseling is the most effective way to reduce problematic gambling behaviors. It can teach individuals to think differently about their gambling and how it affects them and their families. It can also help them learn healthier coping strategies and address any underlying problems such as depression or anxiety that may contribute to gambling behavior. It is also helpful for loved ones to learn how to cope with a person’s problem gambling and provide supportive care. The CUCRC offers counseling and psychiatry appointments on AcademicLiveCare, which allows all CU Boulder students, staff and faculty to schedule virtual sessions with a provider from any location. For more information, visit our page on AcademicLiveCare or contact us for a free screening.