Whether it’s betting on a football team to win a game or buying a scratchcard, gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value (such as money or other valuables) for a chance of winning something else. It can be a fun way to pass the time and even help some people with their finances, but it can also be dangerous for some people who develop a compulsive addiction to gambling.
When you gamble, your brain releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that makes you excited. But your brain also produces this response when you lose — which can make it difficult to know when it’s time to stop playing. Some people may be genetically predisposed to this neurological reaction, or they may have a brain condition that affects how they process reward information, control impulses and weigh risk.
Social gambling can be as simple as playing card or board games for a small amount of money, or as complex as participating in a sports wagering pool or purchasing lottery tickets. Some people make a living by gambling, and these professional gamblers use strategy and skill to win at the tables or on the track.
While there are no medications to treat gambling disorder, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for this condition. This type of therapy focuses on helping a person identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It usually takes place with a trained, licensed mental health professional.