Gambling is the act of placing something of value on an event with uncertain outcome. It excludes activities such as sports betting, where the skill of the participant is an important factor. It is generally understood to involve a financial stake, although it may also include the wagering of personal possessions and other objects not usually subject to immediate sale or transfer (Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989).

Some people are predisposed to gambling addiction. They have difficulty controlling their impulses and they struggle to assess the long-term consequences of their actions. Their reward system is triggered by the activity and they have a higher than normal response to winning. This makes it much harder for them to control their gambling behavior and to stop.

Historically, the word “gambling” has been used to describe fraudulent gamesters or sharpers who use tricks and cheating strategies to win money, especially with cards and dice. But in modern times, it has come to refer to any type of chance activity where skill is not an important element in the outcome. In the United States, the legal definition of gambling includes wagering money or other valuables on an event that is purely random or uncertain, but does not include bona fide business transactions such as stock purchases and sales, contracts for merchandise or commodities, or life, health and accident insurance.

In addition to being a source of entertainment, some people gamble as a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions or to relieve boredom. However, it is important to recognize that there are healthier and safer ways of doing so. People who are struggling with a gambling disorder can find support from their families and friends or by joining a self-help group such as Gamblers Anonymous. They can also try to change their environment by spending time with friends who don’t gamble or trying to find new hobbies and relaxation techniques.

Research has shown that when a person starts to lose control of their gambling, it is usually due to a combination of factors. These include a predisposition to gamble, impulsivity, and cognitive distortions. It is also possible that they are experiencing mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, and this can make them more susceptible to gambling addiction.

In the past, psychiatry has generally viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction. But in 1980, the American Psychiatric Association began to refer to it as an impulse-control disorder (along with other conditions such as kleptomania and pyromania) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM. This change in understanding has led to the increasing recognition that individuals who develop gambling problems have psychological issues, rather than just bad luck. This change has paralleled the way in which the psychiatric community has come to view alcoholics and drug abusers. The DSM nomenclature highlights that pathological gambling shares many characteristics with substance addiction. This has stimulated further research in the area.