Gambling is a risky activity that involves placing something of value, such as money or objects, on an event with uncertain outcomes. It can be a formal or informal action, and can involve anything from betting on a horse race or football match to playing poker with friends or collecting Magic: the Gathering cards. While gambling may seem like a harmless hobby to many, it can cause serious harm to people with mental health problems. There is also a link between gambling and thoughts of suicide, so if you have these concerns, please seek help immediately.

Many of the same mechanisms that drive addiction to substances such as drugs and alcohol, can also trigger a gambling problem. This is because gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system, causing feelings of euphoria when you win. In some cases, this can lead to compulsive behaviour and problems with money management, even after you have stopped gambling.

While the causes of gambling addiction are not well understood, it is widely agreed that there are a number of risk factors. These include a history of substance misuse, poor financial management skills, family and peer influences, and a lack of control. A person who suffers from depression, stress or anxiety can also be more prone to gambling problems, as can those who experience trauma.

The definition of harm as a consequence of gambling, as used in the New Zealand study, is an important addition to the field. It clarifies the distinction between gambling-related harm and comorbidities, and emphasises that harm from gambling can be experienced by the person who gambles, affected others and the broader community, consistent with social models of health. It also explicitly defines harm as an outcome, rather than a set of symptoms, allowing for future measurement in line with standard epidemiological methods in public health, and taking into account the complex interplay between gambling and other activities.

People gamble for a variety of reasons, including the desire to change their mood and to dream about winning big. It can also be a way to relieve boredom, take their mind off of other problems and socialize with friends. Many people enjoy the challenge of trying to beat a computer or other machines in games such as slot machines and video poker.

If you are worried about your own or a loved one’s gambling habits, speak to a debt advisor at StepChange for free, confidential support. We can also help you if you are struggling with debt due to gambling, or you need support managing your finances. Contact us online, in-person or on the phone to get started.