Many adults and adolescents have placed a bet or two, but for a small percentage of people who start gambling, it becomes a pathological addiction. The Psychiatric Association’s latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), defines gambling disorder as a persistent, recurrent pattern of maladaptive betting behavior that results in distress or impairment.

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with an expectation of winning something else of value. It is different from other types of recreational activities, such as sports, which are often considered to be games of skill, or arts and crafts, which may be more considered to be creative. Unlike those recreational activities, gambling is considered to be an addictive activity because it leads to harmful consequences in the form of financial loss, social isolation, and impaired work or personal relationships.

Like other addictive behaviors, gambling triggers a surge of pleasure-producing chemicals in the brain. Over time, those surges can diminish the brain’s ability to experience pleasure from more healthy activities, such as spending time with family or friends or eating a nutritious meal. It can also deter you from seeking out other sources of pleasure, such as exercise or other hobbies that do not involve risking money.

A key to fighting a gambling problem is recognizing that you have one. If you have a hard time admitting that you are having trouble controlling your gambling, seek help through a treatment program, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also helpful to build strong support networks and find other ways to socialize, such as joining a book club or volunteering for a worthy cause.