Gambling is an activity in which people risk money or other items of value by placing bets on the outcome of a contest or game of chance. There are a variety of different types of gambling, from games such as bingo that use chance to determine winners and losers, to casino table games where skill and knowledge play a significant part in the outcome. In a broader sense, even investing in stock markets can be considered to be a form of gambling since each purchase of a share of a company’s stock represents a wager that the company will be profitable within a certain time frame.

Scientific research shows that when a person is gambling, their brains respond differently than when they are not. Using brain scans, Potenza and his colleagues showed that when people are not gambling, their brains respond to images of positive events such as weddings or death. When shown the same images, but with the addition of pictures of casinos and betting, the brain responses of pathological gamblers were elevated to a level that did not occur in non-gamblers.

In the end, the greatest loss in gambling is not the money lost by the individual gambler, but the pain, suffering and heartache it causes to his or her family. When a loved one has an addiction to gambling, the family is at increased risk for divorce, bankruptcy, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. For this reason, there is a growing role for evaluation of gambling behavior in primary care settings and the development of more formal diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling within the psychiatric literature.