Whether it’s betting on a football team to win or buying a scratchcard, gambling involves placing a value on something that has an unknown outcome. Some forms of gambling are entirely based on chance while others, such as poker, involve some degree of skill.

A large body of research has linked pathological gambling to substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviors. In addition, brain research shows that people with gambling problems have smaller volumes in their amygdala and hippocampus, regions that control reward processing and stress regulation. It’s also been found that young people—particularly boys and men—are particularly susceptible to gambling. This is largely because the prefrontal cortex, which regulates impulsivity and decision-making, develops later in these groups.

Some people find that they gamble to self-soothe unpleasant emotions or relieve boredom. However, there are healthier and more effective ways to deal with these feelings. These include exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. Taking these steps can help you break the cycle of gambling and self-soothing.