Gambling is the wagering of something of value (typically money) on an event that has some element of chance and involves a prize. It is a form of risk-taking in which instances of strategy are discounted. The activity is popular and is a common part of many societies.

It is estimated that the total amount of money legally wagered on lotteries and other forms of gambling is about $10 trillion annually, worldwide. Some people also engage in social gambling, such as playing card games or board games with friends for small amounts of money or participating in friendly sports betting pools or buying lottery tickets with coworkers. In these activities, people are generally not taking the risks or prize potential too seriously and are more likely to view the outcome of their bets as a fun and recreational activity rather than a form of addiction.

Other types of gambling include the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages, participation in organized sports betting, purchasing and using tickets to musical or theatrical events, horse racing, and dice and casino games. Some of these forms of gambling are legal and some are illegal. Many of the same issues that surround gambling are also associated with other types of addictive behavior, such as the use of illegal drugs and alcohol.

Throughout the years, understanding of gambling has changed significantly. In the past, most individuals who experienced adverse consequences from their gambling were considered to have a mental illness or problem. Today, however, the understanding of gambling is more complex. It is viewed as a behavior that can occur on a continuum, from behaviors that are at low risk for developing more serious problems to those that meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) for pathological gambling (PG).

Longitudinal studies provide important insights into the nature of problem gambling. They help identify the factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s involvement in gambling. Such data are critical for the development of interventions to prevent and treat gambling disorders. However, longitudinal research is not easy to conduct. There are numerous barriers, including the enormous investment required for a multiyear study, the challenges of maintaining research team continuity over such a period, and the knowledge that longitudinal data can confound aging and period effects (e.g., does an increase in an individual’s gambling involvement result from his or her reaching the legal age to gamble, because a new casino opened, or some other factor?).

If you are struggling with a loved one who is addicted to gambling, seek help. It is often a difficult decision to admit that your relationship with this person has become problematic. It may feel like a betrayal and will hurt your feelings, especially if you’ve lost money or strained relationships along the way. Nonetheless, you should remember that you are not alone, and that many other families have overcome this issue.