Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event largely determined by chance in the hope of winning something else of value. It has existed in virtually every society since prerecorded history and is incorporated into local customs and rites of passage. While most people gamble without problems, a small percentage become seriously involved and develop gambling disorder (defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) – characterized by impulsive behavior that is out of control and has significant negative personal, family, social, and financial consequences.

A key difference between gambling and other activities that involve risk-taking is that skills that enhance the probability of success can be learned in gambling, while in other types of risk-taking, such as obtaining insurance, the odds are completely random. For example, knowledge of card-playing strategies can help one improve their chances in certain games of chance, and a thorough understanding of horses and jockeys may allow one to make more accurate predictions about horse races. In addition, the act of putting money on an outcome is not enough by itself to distinguish gambling from other forms of risk-taking, as many activities that do not qualify as gambling can nonetheless involve significant risk, such as foregoing needed medical care or taking unnecessary risks with investments.

Research has suggested that certain personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions make individuals more susceptible to developing a gambling problem. These factors include a tendency to be impulsive, a predisposition to engage in high-risk behavior, and an underlying lack of self-control or the ability to delay gratification. Some studies have also shown that a history of trauma and abuse is associated with the development of gambling disorders.

In addition to addressing the underlying issues, treatment and rehabilitation programs for gambling disorders typically focus on educating patients about how their addiction affects the brain and teaches them healthy coping mechanisms. Treatment options often include psychotherapy, such as individual or group therapy, a type of talk therapy designed to increase self-awareness and improve communication skills; and family and marriage therapy, which can address the impact that gambling has on relationships and provide strategies for improving them.

Regardless of the approach, it is important for individuals with gambling disorder to enlist the support of friends and family and seek out professional help. In some cases, the best treatment option is inpatient or residential care, which provides round-the-clock support and intensive therapeutic services for individuals whose gambling has become problematic. Other possible treatments and therapies include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps individuals modify thinking patterns that contribute to their gambling addiction; and psychodynamic therapy, which examines unconscious processes that can influence behavior. It is also recommended that individuals seeking recovery find a sponsor, or someone who has overcome a gambling disorder, to offer guidance and support. This is a common feature of 12 Step recovery programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.