Gambling is a popular pastime in which people risk something of value (like money, merchandise, or even their own lives) on the outcome of a random event, where the chances of winning are determined by chance rather than strategy. Gambling is illegal in some countries but is widely practised in others, with estimates of the total global legal gambling market reaching $10 trillion a year.

Some forms of gambling involve a higher level of skill and knowledge on the part of the players, but many are simply games of chance. For example, the stock markets may be considered a form of gambling, in which people place wagers (known as premiums) on a set of underlying assets. Other examples of gambling include betting on sports events or horse races, and using collectible game pieces as stakes in a meta-game about the value of the collection.

Although many people consider gambling to be harmless, it can cause serious problems for some people. It is estimated that around two million Americans have a gambling problem, and for many it can have negative consequences on their health, work and relationships.

For some people, the euphoria associated with gambling can lead to addictive behaviours similar to those seen in drug addiction. This is because repeated exposure to gambling and uncertainty changes reward pathways in the brain, just like drugs of abuse do. It has also been found that the release of dopamine during gambling can trigger cravings for other substances, such as alcohol and illicit drugs.

All gambling activities involve some element of risk, and some people are predisposed to a gambling problem due to a combination of factors. These can include family and social influences, as well as personal characteristics such as temperament, genetics and personality traits. Compulsive gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people, but people of any age can develop a gambling problem. It is also more likely to occur if someone has been exposed to gambling in their childhood or teenage years.

There is a range of effective treatments for gambling problems, and it’s important to understand the risks involved in gambling before you start. Whether it’s online gambling, lottery tickets, or a charity football pool, all forms of gambling come with risk and can have harmful effects on your wellbeing.

We’ve put together a guide to help you understand the risks, and find out where to get support and treatment if you need it. You can also find advice on how to change your gambling habits, or speak to a friend or relative who might be showing risky behaviour.