Gambling is an activity in which people bet or stake something of value on an event, in the hope of winning a prize. This could be a football game, a lottery or even playing a scratchcard. Whether the outcome is determined by chance or skill, gambling can be a risky and exciting way to spend money.
The harms of gambling are well documented and recognised. The impact of gambling can be significant and have a range of negative effects on health, relationships and mental wellbeing.
Harms of gambling are broadly defined and include: emotional and psychological distress; financial harm and relationship harm. The breadth of these harms are complex and largely dependent on the individual experience, which can be difficult to capture.
Emotional and Psychological Distress
The most common emotional and psychological distress experienced by people who gambled was shame and stigma. These were found at all levels of participation and were particularly prominent for those who affected others. They were also accompanied by feelings of embarrassment, self-esteem issues and a sense of failure. They were often associated with suicidal ideation and attempts.
Those who gambled reported that these experiences of shame and stigma were often linked to social and cultural values surrounding gambling, such as the appearance of deviance, impulsivity and an inability to control their actions. They also reflected a sense of powerlessness in the management of their gambling behaviours and the impact of these on their own and others’ lives.
These were a key source of distress to the person who gambled and affected others, particularly at levels of severity where the individual had lost their ability to maintain healthy relationships, as well as having an erosion in savings and other discretionary resources. They were also identified as a risk factor for psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Relationship harms relating to the primary relationship between someone who gambled and their affected others (including family, friends and community) were a second dimension of gambling related harms that emerged from this research. Similar to financial harms, these were a key threshold in seeking assistance or treatment and reflected the importance of the relationship to both the person who gambled and their affected others.
Within this dimension of harms, relationship distress was a broad and complex term. This included loss of trust, a lack of communication and conflict around the gambling behaviours of the person who gambled or the impact of those behaviours on their affected others. The person who gambled reported that this distress was caused by distorted cognitions and erroneous beliefs, feelings of lack of control relating to their gambling and desperation in trying to recoup losses. The affected others reported similar experiences of distress from a loss of trust and communication.
These findings provide insight into the harms of gambling and suggest that a more comprehensive approach to identifying, measuring and interpreting gambling related harms is needed. This will allow for a more coherent interpretation across a variety of stakeholders including public health professionals, gambling providers and researchers, to better inform prevention and treatment approaches.