Gambling is betting money or something else of value on an uncertain event with awareness of the risk of losing it. It can range from the buying of lottery tickets by people living on a tight budget to the sophisticated casino gambling enjoyed by wealthy individuals as a leisure time activity. Gambling is not a socially admirable activity and can impoverish families, deprive children of educational opportunities, create debt and lead to bankruptcy and homelessness. It also causes many other problems including family disintegration, substance abuse and entrapment by organized crime.

Most consumers engage in gambling as a way of relaxing and socializing with friends in a fun environment. However, it can also be a form of escapism and a source of thrill. The euphoria and excitement of gambling can produce a similar response to the effects of drugs or alcohol, by stimulating the release of dopamine. This is why gambling should be avoided by those who are prone to addictions.

The understanding of the adverse consequences of gambling has undergone a significant change in recent years. From being viewed as a moral failing and an expression of immorality, gamblers are now understood as having psychological problems. This change in understanding is partly reflected in the new diagnosis of pathological gambling included in various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

There are a number of different approaches to studying the impacts of gambling. These can be categorized into personal, interpersonal and community/society levels. Personal and interpersonal level impacts are mainly nonmonetary and can be invisible to others. These can include the emotional distress caused by gambling, and a gambler’s failure to perform well at work or in relationships.

In addition to the negative aspects of gambling, there are also some positive impacts on society. For example, the freedom to gamble openly became a potent symbol of democratization in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union during the early 1990s, as people crowded into casinos and bingo halls. This allowed them to experience the excitement of winning money and gaining status amongst their peers.

Nevertheless, research into gambling has been hindered by the lack of a common methodology to assess costs and benefits. This has been largely due to the fact that researchers use different paradigms or world views when considering these matters. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Specifically, a standard nomenclature for describing gambling problems must be agreed upon. This is especially important because research scientists, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians as well as public policy makers frame the questions about gambling differently based on their disciplinary training, experience and special interests. This diversity of perspective has contributed to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of gambling problems and their impact on society. It is critical that these differences be addressed so that the most accurate and comprehensive picture of gambling’s costs and benefits can be formulated. A common nomenclature will also help to bring consistency to the terminology used by those involved in analyzing gambling’s social and economic impacts.