Gambling is the staking of something of value (money, property or other items) upon an uncertain event with an awareness that there is risk involved. It can be done for a variety of reasons, including the enjoyment of the rush of winning or as a way to try and overcome financial difficulties. It is a widespread activity, with legalised gambling available in every state and territory in the US and many online options. People engage in gambling activities for a number of reasons, from the impulsive thrill-seeking behaviours and lowered inhibitions found in some people to the need to escape from the everyday world and to socialise with friends.

Gambling can be very addictive and can have severe consequences for the person’s health, family and work life. Often the problem is hidden for a long time, as it is difficult to admit to anyone that gambling has become a serious issue. Various factors can lead to a gambler becoming dependent on the activity, including genetic predisposition and a brain that may not respond appropriately to rewards.

It is important to understand the psychology of gambling so that you can help a loved one when they are having problems. It is also helpful to learn more about the treatment options available, so that you can support them as they seek the right help for their circumstances.

A person may start to gamble excessively when they are chasing losses. Losses are much more noticeable than wins and this can lead to the individual attempting to win back their lost money in order to feel happy again. However, this can cause them to become more impulsive and to lose control of their behaviour. This is known as a ‘reward tolerance’ and it can result in an individual having to gamble more and more in order to get the same level of pleasure or euphoria that they used to experience.

People with a high risk of developing an addiction may also have difficulty making decisions that take into account the longer-term implications of their actions. Research suggests that these individuals have a biological predisposition to gamble and their reward system is underactive, resulting in the need for constant stimulation. They are also more likely to be impulsive and to show high levels of anxiety and depression.

Trying to help someone who is struggling with a gambling problem can be challenging, as it can be hard to know what the signs are and how best to react. For example, some people will hide their gambling or lie about how much they are spending. This can be because they fear that others won’t understand or that they will surprise them with a big win.

There are also some people who will not be able to stop gambling even if they realise it is causing them harm, which can be distressing for their friends and family. For these people, it is worth considering counselling or psychotherapy as a form of treatment.