Gambling involves risking money or something of value (such as a racehorse, a ticket to a concert, or a hand of poker) on an event with a uncertain outcome. It can be exciting and fun, but it’s important to remember that gambling is not a way to make money. The odds are always against you, and the more money you wager, the more likely you will lose.

Many people gamble for recreation and to have a good time, but some individuals develop a problem. Those with a gambling disorder are not in control of their actions, which affects how they think, feel, and behave. The condition can cause problems in relationships, work, school, and health. People with a gambling problem may lie to friends and family or steal money to fund their gambling activities. They often experience feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression. They may also have difficulty sleeping and become withdrawn from their friends and family. They may also have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a serious mental illness that affects between 0.4 and 1.6% of the population. It is more common in males than in females, and it typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood. It is more common in those who have a history of family members with a gambling problem and those who have a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts. Those with a history of drug or alcohol use are also more at risk for developing PG.

Psychiatrists diagnose PG by using a variety of methods, including taking a family history, conducting an interview, and doing psychological testing. Some therapists also conduct cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps the person change their thought patterns and coping skills. Other treatments include medication, self-help groups, and inpatient or residential treatment programs.

While there is not yet an accurate or universally agreed-upon definition of a gambling disorder, a psychiatric diagnosis can be made when the following criteria are met:

People with a gambling problem often report that they started gambling to relieve unpleasant feelings or to unwind. It can be hard to break this habit, but there are healthy ways to relieve these feelings and unwind, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. Some individuals with a gambling disorder find that their gambling increases during times of stress, such as when they are having financial difficulties or a relationship crisis. In these cases, it is important to seek help before the situation worsens.