Gambling Harm


Gambling involves risking something of value (such as money, property or other assets) on an event that is uncertain or based on chance. The event can be a sporting event, game of chance, or other events such as buying a scratchcard.

In some cases, the outcome of a gamble can lead to serious harm, including physical and psychological health problems, difficulties in relationships with family and friends, financial hardship and even homelessness. Problem gambling can also cause work and study performance to deteriorate and can result in legal trouble with the law. Harm can occur to anyone, and it can affect people from all walks of life.

For some people, however, gambling can become a serious addiction. It can take over their lives and can be difficult to break free from, leading to significant harm. Problem gambling can be a hidden addiction that is very hard to recognise, with people often lying to their family and hiding their gambling. Those who suffer from severe gambling addiction may need residential treatment or rehabilitation programs to overcome it.

Research on gambling harm is a complex and multi-faceted area of enquiry. The wording of the WHO definition reflects this complexity and highlights the fact that harm is not simply a consequence of gambling behaviour but can be caused by many different factors. This definition also clearly delineates harm from related issues such as categorisation of behaviour of gambling, clinical diagnosis or risk factors.

The WHO defines harmful gambling as ‘gambling behaviour that causes direct or indirect psychological, social or financial harm or distress to the individual, their family, their social network or their community.’ This definition includes a range of gambling behaviour, from those behaviors that are at risk for developing more serious problems (subclinical), to those that meet diagnostic criteria for disordered gambling in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

To assess the effects of gambling, it is important to use longitudinal data. This is because examining patterns of gambling over time allows researchers to establish causal links. This approach is particularly useful when studying the social and economic impacts of gambling.

If you know or suspect that a friend or family member has a problem with gambling, seek help immediately. If you are the financial manager of a person with a gambling problem, set limits for them and do not let them gamble with your credit cards or funds. Always be aware of the irrational belief that they are due for a big win, known as the gambler’s fallacy. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your local gambling support service or join a peer recovery group such as Gamblers Anonymous. The support of others who have overcome their own gambling addiction can be very powerful in helping you stay on track and remain sober. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to quit gambling for good.