Gambling Harm


Gambling is an activity in which you make a bet on an outcome that is not necessarily certain, and there is the potential to win a prize. It is a common pastime, and for many people can be an enjoyable social activity. However, it can also be harmful and lead to significant negative consequences.

A gambling problem can affect anyone from children and adolescents to older adults, and is a very serious and potentially life threatening condition. It can impact on the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. Problem gamblers can experience harm in a number of areas including their physical and mental health, relationships, work or study performance, and their finances. This can result in serious debt, homelessness and even suicide.

The definition of harm in the literature is broad, and it is important to note that it includes all harms resulting from engagement with gambling. This is in contrast to previous definitions of harm, which were limited to the occurrence of harm at a diagnostic point of problem gambling or during the experience of gambling. This widening of the definition is consistent with a public health approach to gambling harm and is aligned with the World Health Organisation definition of health.

This article was informed by a series of semi-structured interviews (n=25) with people who identified as either people who gamble or affected others. Interviews were conducted in person or by telephone and ranged from twenty to sixty minutes in length. The interviews were transcribed and analysed.

Two distinct themes emerged from the interviews: (1) a recurrent pattern of maladaptive behaviours, and (2) an increased vulnerability to comorbid conditions such as alcohol use and depression. Several factors contribute to the onset of a gambling problem, including a history of childhood trauma and neglect, family dynamics, and culture. In addition, a number of interventions are available to help address problem gambling. These include cognitive-behaviour therapy, where irrational beliefs are confronted and replaced by more rational thoughts; and motivational enhancement therapy, which encourages the individual to reframe the context of their gambling.

The first step to reducing gambling harm is educating the public about the nature of gambling and its potential for causing harm. This should include the fact that there is no guarantee of winning and that losses are the norm. It is vital to encourage a responsible attitude towards gambling, which involves only wagering money that you can afford to lose. It is also helpful to set limits on how much time and money you can spend gambling, and not to combine it with other forms of entertainment such as cinema tickets or a meal out. It is also important not to ‘chase’ your losses, as this often leads to bigger losses in the long run. Ultimately, gambling is not a profitable way to make money and should be considered as an expense, not a source of income. If you have a gambling issue, you can contact us for free and confidential help.