Gambling involves risking money or something else of value in order to predict the outcome of a game that relies on chance, such as betting on sports events or buying scratchcards. It is often seen as a recreational activity but can also be addictive. Problem gambling is associated with harm and may impact health, work, education and relationships. It can cause financial problems and lead to bankruptcy and homelessness. This article discusses the harms of gambling and how to recognise if you are at risk or someone you know is in danger.

Many people gamble to have a flutter or to make a small profit, but it is important to realise that you are likely to lose most of the time. This is because gambling is a highly competitive industry, with a large house edge – the house’s mathematical advantage over the player.

Despite the odds, it’s still possible to win big if you play correctly. The first step is to choose what you want to bet on – it could be a football team or a horse race, a lottery ticket or a game of pokies. The choice you make is matched to ‘odds’, which are set by the betting company and determine how much money you could win if you are correct. These odds are published in advertisements, on the internet and on gambling products.

When you gamble, your brain releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. This is why you may feel excited when winning and down when losing. However, some people are predisposed to gambling addiction and can’t control their gambling habits. This is partly due to genetics and coexisting mental health conditions.

Identifying triggers can help you avoid relapsing after you’ve made a decision to stop. Try to notice the people, places and things that make you automatically want to gamble. For example, do you feel the urge to gamble when you’re at a party or after having a fight with your partner? If so, find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings. Try exercising, going to social events, spending more time with friends who don’t gamble and trying relaxation techniques.

If you’re worried about the gambling behaviour of a loved one, remember that it can be hard for them to admit they have a problem. They might downplay or deny their gambling behaviour, hide their cards or lie about the amount of time they spend playing. This can cause stress and tension in relationships, so it’s important to support them through the recovery process.

There are many different ways to help a person with a gambling problem, including counselling, medication and self-help resources. But it’s also important to consider whether a more serious mental health issue is contributing to their unhealthy behaviour. Addressing these issues may make it easier for them to break the gambling habit. You can get support and assistance from a range of organisations, including your GP, local community services or specialist support services.