Gambling involves risking something of value on an event of chance – whether that’s placing a bet on the outcome of a football match or buying a scratchcard. It’s not just about money, however – individuals gamble to feel excited and elated. This is because gambling can cause your brain to release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter.

It’s important to understand that there is a difference between normal gambling and problem gambling, or ‘pathological gambling’. Pathological gambling is a serious disorder that affects your ability to control yourself. It can lead to serious financial problems and ruin your relationships, career or education. In addition, it can be very harmful to your physical health and mental wellbeing.

About 2.5 million Americans (1%) would meet the criteria for a severe gambling problem in any given year. Another 5-8 million adults (2-3%) have mild or moderate gambling problems. In most cases, these individuals don’t meet the full set of diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder but still experience significant difficulties related to their behavior.

Psychiatrists and other treatment providers have developed a variety of ways to think about gambling disorders. These perspectives are called paradigms or world views and they reflect the different backgrounds, training, experiences and interests of various groups of people interested in this area.

Some individuals develop a gambling disorder because of emotional, family or work issues. Others become vulnerable to gambling because of a genetic predisposition or a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Gambling can also be a way to escape from difficult emotions or situations such as depression, boredom, grief or loneliness.