Gambling is when you risk money or something else of value on the outcome of a game based entirely on chance, such as betting on a football match, fruit machines or scratchcards. You can lose the amount you put at risk, or win. It is important to understand gambling because it is a growing problem for some people. It can also have serious health impacts. This article explains what is known about the causes of gambling problems, and what to do if you think that you or someone close to you has a gambling problem.

Research is ongoing to find out what makes some people more vulnerable to developing a gambling addiction. It may be that some people have a genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behavior and impulsivity, or that specific brain regions are active during gambling. In addition, some people may be more sensitive to the emotional impact of losses than gains of the same size. This can lead to repeated attempts to recoup losses or make up for previous wins, which can quickly spiral out of control.

Other factors that can contribute to a gambling problem include downplaying or lying about gambling, being dependent on other people to fund gambling or replace funds lost, and continued gambling even when it negatively affects work, education or personal relationships. It is also possible that gambling can become addictive because of the way it triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of reward and pleasure.