Gambling is the placing of a value (usually money) on an event whose outcome depends on chance. The activity may be done with cards, dice, lottery tickets, slot machines, horses, sports events, scratchcards and more. It is a popular pastime that generates massive revenue for some states, countries and organisations.

The most common way of gambling is betting on a sporting event. It is a way for fans to show their support and win cash prizes. However, there is a risk that this type of gambling can become addictive. It can also lead to debt problems, so it is best avoided if possible.

Psychiatrists used to treat compulsive gambling as an impulse control disorder, but now they’re beginning to recognise that it is actually a type of addiction. This change in approach reflects a new understanding of the biology behind gambling and is likely to change how psychiatrists help people with this condition.

How can gambling affect my mental health?

People gamble for many reasons, including to socialise and escape from stress. But if you find yourself betting more than you can afford to lose, borrowing to fund your gambling or feeling stressed and anxious about it, it could be a sign that your gambling is getting out of hand.

Some people are more prone to harmful gambling than others. This may be because they’re already struggling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, which can trigger or worsen gambling problems. It’s also because they may be under financial pressure, which can lead to gambling as a way to try and make up for lost income or avoid paying bills.

There are ways to tackle harmful gambling, such as seeking treatment and trying self-help tips. A therapist can help you identify and challenge underlying mood disorders that might be contributing to your problem, and teach you skills for managing gambling urges and solving relationship, work and money problems caused by your addiction. One option is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches you to change unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts through practice and reinforcement.

Another good idea is to surround yourself with supportive people who can offer encouragement and accountability, especially if you’re trying to break a habit of excessive gambling. You can also join a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The biggest step in breaking the gambling habit is acknowledging you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit you have a problem, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or have strained or broken relationships as a result of your addiction. But it’s worth remembering that you’re not alone and that many others have successfully overcome this issue.

If you’re battling a gambling addiction, get in touch with StepChange for free and confidential debt advice. Or use our online therapist directory to be matched with a vetted, licensed therapist who can help. You’ll be able to speak with someone in as little as 48 hours.