Gambling is an activity in which people risk money or other items of value on events that have an element of randomness or chance. These events can include games of chance such as card games, fruit machines and slot machines, as well as sports accumulators, horse races and lottery draws. It can also be a form of speculating on business or financial markets.
While many people gamble without a problem, for others it can cause significant harm. The harms can range from affecting mental health and relationships, to impacting work or study performance and leading to debt and homelessness. Research suggests that around half of suicides are linked to gambling. It can also trigger or worsen mood disorders such as depression, and in some cases it may contribute to a person’s decision to take their own life.
Harm minimisation is a key principle of public health approaches to gambling. However, the definition of harm in this context is inconsistently interpreted across the literature, treatment providers and policy makers. This paper aims to provide a clearer interpretation of the term. It proposes a functional definition of gambling related harm and develops a framework for its conceptualisation. It also identifies a taxonomy of harm experiences at three levels: the person who gambles, affected others and the broader community. This is consistent with social models of health and allows for the inclusion of harms experienced by those who work in the gambling industry and by those providing treatment and support services.
The authors conducted focus groups and semi-structured interviews (n=25) with people who identified themselves as either a person who gambles or as having been directly affected by someone else’s gambling. These were held in person and over the telephone. The interviews lasted between twenty and sixty minutes and participants were compensated for their time with a voucher.
There is no single solution to gambling problems, but a combination of strategies can help. Counselling can help people think about how gambling affects them and consider options for addressing it. For example, a therapist might help them confront irrational beliefs about luck such as the idea that a string of losses signals an imminent win. It is also important to have a strong support network. This could include family members, friends or a peer group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model of recovery from alcohol addiction. Other options include joining a book club, sports team or volunteering for a good cause. Some medications can help treat co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety that might be contributing to a person’s gambling behavior. But ultimately, the decision to stop gambling is up to the individual.