Gambling is one of the most popular pastimes in the United States, but it’s not without risk. Problem gambling can lead to financial disaster and social disruption. It’s important to understand what factors cause gambling addiction and how to recognize the warning signs.

People love to gamble because it provides a sense of excitement and offers the possibility of winning big money. But for some people, this thrill can become too much. Those who develop compulsive gambling tend to have brain structures that make them more prone to over-stimulate the reward system, making it harder for them to control their impulses and weigh risk against enjoyment. Some also have genetic predispositions toward impulsivity or thrill-seeking behaviours.

It is also possible that a person’s culture may influence their view of gambling as an acceptable form of recreation or a sign of poor judgment, mental illness or moral turpitude. Regardless of cultural attitudes, many people have a hard time recognizing a gambling disorder because the activities are often seen as common, despite their potential for addictive and harmful effects.

Researchers have documented impacts from gambling at the individual, interpersonal and community/society levels. Identifying which impacts to focus on and how to measure them presents methodological challenges. Most studies to date have concentrated on economic impacts, which are easier to quantify. Other impacts are less easily quantified, such as social costs and benefits. These include social distancing, the deterioration of a person’s quality of life, and loss of family or community cohesion.