Gambling is an activity where a person stakes something of value on an event that has the potential to produce a prize win. This can include anything from lottery tickets, instant scratch cards and raffles to sports gambling, horse racing, casino games, table games and the Internet. While most people who gamble have no problems, a significant proportion develop gambling disorder, which is recognised as a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The risk for developing gambling problems increases with age, especially among adolescents and young adults. People with low incomes are also more likely to be vulnerable, and a large proportion of those who develop gambling disorders are men. But there are a few things you can do to reduce your vulnerability and avoid gambling problems. For starters, never chase your losses: thinking that you’re due for a big win and will regain what you’ve lost is known as the gambler’s fallacy and is one of the most common causes of gambling problems.

Another way to reduce your vulnerability is to limit how much money you’re willing to lose, and stick to that amount no matter what happens. You should also be sure to make good financial choices, including avoiding credit cards, carrying large amounts of cash and using gambling venues as socialising places. Finally, try to find alternative recreational activities or hobbies that take up your time and energy.

In addition to the obvious physical and psychological harms, there are other indirect costs associated with gambling that can affect individuals and communities. These costs are often overlooked and may be difficult to quantify. They include the loss of personal wealth and the negative impact on family life, friendships and work performance. They can also result in debt and bankruptcy.

Many people have difficulty recognising that their gambling is out of control and may hide the amount they are spending or even lie about their gambling habits. It’s important to recognise when the problem is getting out of hand, and if you’re worried, there are organisations that can offer support and assistance.

The most effective treatment for gambling problems is cognitive-behaviour therapy, which can help you to identify and challenge irrational beliefs that fuel your addiction. For example, you might have the belief that a string of losses means you’re due for a big win or that the odds of hitting two out of three cherries on a slot machine mean that your luck is about to change.

Researchers are exploring new ways to measure the cost and benefits of gambling and its effects, and one method is to use health-related quality of life weights (HRQL DWs) to estimate the impact on individual gamblers’ well-being. This approach, which is similar to that used in alcohol and drug research, could reveal hidden harms that are not immediately visible. It may also lead to more effective treatments for gambling-related harms.