Gambling is the act of risking something of value, including money, on an uncertain event such as a game of chance or a race. If you win, you receive a reward. If you lose, you lose your stake. People gamble in a variety of ways, from scratchcards to slot machines and betting with friends. In some countries and regions, gambling is legal while in others, it is not. Gambling can have positive and negative effects on people’s lives, depending on the context in which it is done and how it is managed.
The psychological effects of gambling are well established. Players’ brains release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, when they make winning bets. This chemical response makes them feel happy and upbeat, even when they are losing. This explains why some people are unable to stop gambling, even when they are down on their luck. The psychological effects of gambling can also be exacerbated by mood disorders such as depression or stress.
Studies of the social impacts of gambling are becoming more common and sophisticated, but they still face many barriers. For one, it is difficult to measure the social costs of gambling because they cannot be expressed in monetary terms. These social costs are incurred by individuals and groups that do not directly benefit from gambling, such as the family of a compulsive gambler or community members who suffer from a loved one’s gambling problem.
Researchers use a wide range of methods to study the impact of gambling. Longitudinal studies are the most valuable because they provide an in-depth understanding of the underlying factors that cause people to gamble, and how these influences change over time. However, longitudinal studies are hampered by numerous factors such as funding, maintaining research team continuity over a long period of time, and sample attrition.
A major limitation of previous gambling impact studies is that they have focused exclusively on economic costs and benefits, which are easily quantified. This ignores the more intangible social costs associated with gambling, such as a reduction in a person’s quality of life or an increase in their risk of a mental health disorder.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have a problem with gambling, consult a mental health professional. Psychiatric professionals have developed criteria that help identify problems with gambling and are trained to treat them. In addition, the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists pathological gambling as a disorder.