Gambling – A Complex Social Phenomenon

Gambling involves risking something of value on an activity that is primarily a game of chance with the hope of winning. It has been part of human society since prerecorded history and is found throughout the world in many forms. People may gamble in casinos, race tracks, online or through the mail. It can also take the form of card games, dice, scratch-off tickets and sports betting. Gambling is often associated with a desire to win and may become addictive.

Gambling is a complex social phenomenon. The development of gambling reflects changes in economic conditions and values, such as the growing emphasis on profits in business and the increasing financial independence of women and minorities. It also reflects cultural influences and technological advances. For example, the Depression of the 1930s promoted increased individualism, while technical improvements in banking and communication enabled greater access to money.

Almost all societies have some type of gambling activity, with some having more than others. It is often a socially acceptable pastime and can be incorporated into local customs and rites of passage. Many people enjoy the excitement of betting on a horse or a football game, and a broader range of gambling activities has been developed. The term ‘gambling’ also includes the practice of placing bets on events of little or no importance to the gambler, such as a lottery or television game.

Problem gambling is associated with negative consequences for the person involved and is a serious medical concern. In addition to the obvious financial costs, it can lead to family discord, loss of employment, credit problems and legal trouble. Psychiatric disorders are frequently linked with gambling and some forms of gambling have been classified as mental illnesses, such as compulsive gambling (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

In addition to the emotional, social and psychological effects, gambling can result in physical damage. Research has shown that regular and prolonged gambling can affect the heart and blood vessels, as well as cause a variety of other health problems.

Some people develop a chemical dependency on gambling and need professional help to break the addiction. In addition, some individuals can experience gambling-related problems even without a formal diagnosis of a disorder. The behavior is similar to the way some people can become addicted to other substances, such as alcohol.

If someone you know has a gambling problem, encourage them to seek professional help. There are a number of treatment programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step program for dealing with addiction to alcohol. Other options include finding a support group, joining a book club or sports team, enrolling in education classes and volunteering for charity. Having a strong support network can be important in helping a person with a gambling disorder. It can also be helpful to set boundaries in managing household finances and to limit a person’s access to money for gambling purposes. Moreover, it is important to talk openly with friends and family about gambling and to avoid secretive behavior.