Gambling can be a fun diversion, but for some people it becomes an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work and cause financial disaster. It may also lead to committing crimes such as stealing money to gamble.

The behaviour of someone with a gambling problem is often difficult to understand. They are impulsive by nature and struggle to consider the long-term impact of their actions. They may even rationalise their urge to throw the dice or pull the lever of a slot machine ‘just one more time’. This is because their brain releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, when they win or lose. This is why it’s important to recognise the warning signs of gambling problems.

While some people will always be prone to gambling problems, there are ways to reduce the risks. A key step is to realise that you are not alone and seek help from a trained professional. This could be a friend, family member or professional counsellor. Other ways to reduce risk factors include avoiding gambling venues, reducing the use of credit cards and carrying large amounts of cash and finding alternative ways to socialise or relieve boredom.

Many of us have been involved in gambling at some point in our lives. It might have been a game of cards with friends, placing a bet on the football or horse races, or playing slots or video-draw poker machines at the casino or TAB. These are examples of informal gambling in a private setting, where participants wager money or items of value and the outcome is determined by chance.

More recently, online gambling sites have emerged, which allow people to gamble using virtual currency. These sites are considered by some to be equivalent to land-based casinos and have become a major source of income for governments around the world. However, some researchers are concerned about the potential for these sites to promote gambling addiction and encourage risk-taking.

In the past, most gambling studies have focused on measuring economic impacts and benefits – costs and benefits that are easy to quantify. This approach overlooks the fact that gambling can have serious social and psychological impacts that are not easily measured or quantified in monetary terms.

For example, people who gamble can develop feelings of guilt or shame about their gambling, and they may be secretive about how much they bet. They can also experience a range of other symptoms, including an inability to control their spending or the frequency with which they gamble. These effects can have a significant negative effect on their quality of life and may contribute to the development of gambling problems.

Gambling must not be promoted recklessly to vulnerable people. It is a mind-altering substance that should not be administered without the supervision of physicians or pharmacists. Instead, it should be regulated in the same way that other medicines are.