Gambling is a widely practised activity in which people risk something of value, usually money, in return for the chance to win a prize. It is a popular pastime that involves risk and uncertainty, and for some individuals it can become an addictive behaviour causing harm.

Despite the fact that most individuals who gamble do not experience problems, a small proportion of these individuals may develop gambling disorder as defined in the DSM-5, which is characterized by excessive or compulsive gambling behaviour that causes significant distress and impairment in their daily functioning. It is important for health care professionals to be able to recognise and evaluate these individuals, as they are at increased risk of adverse health outcomes including mental health disorders.

However, defining the nature of a gambling problem is challenging. This is because it is a highly variable and complex phenomenon with effects that can range from trivial to severe and the extent of harm experienced can vary from mild to extreme. The lack of a clear definition has resulted in divergent diagnostic criteria used by different groups of practitioners. These include psychiatric diagnoses, which are based on behavioural symptoms and cognitive distortions, as well as non-psychiatric diagnostic classifications such as adolescent alcohol use disorder, pathological gambling, and gambling addiction.

It is also important to recognise that many of the factors that lead to gambling disorder are multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic and environmental influences. The development of a more consistent and reliable diagnosis will assist health care professionals in the evaluation and treatment of those who are at risk of gambling-related problems.

The majority of gambling research focuses on individual behaviour and addiction, but there is a growing corpus of work considering the wider socio-cultural influences that shape and influence such behaviour. This is particularly relevant given that the gambling environment is rapidly changing through liberalisation, globalisation, marketing, products and services, new technologies, and changes in social contexts.

As such, there is an increasing need for health care professionals to be able to assess and evaluate patients’ gambling behaviours, especially in primary care settings. This will allow them to identify those at risk of developing a gambling problem and offer appropriate preventive or intervention strategies.

One of the best ways to minimise the likelihood of gambling becoming a problem is to set a budget for your entertainment spending, and only use money that you can afford to lose. You should also remove your credit cards from your computer and phone so that they can’t autofill on gambling sites, and never gamble with money you need to pay for basic needs, such as rent and food. In addition, try to find other ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as by exercising, talking to friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. It is also a good idea to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which can help you stay on track with your goals by providing valuable guidance from a sponsor who has been in recovery.


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