The Relationship Between Gambling and Health


Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event with the intention to win a prize, where there is some degree of risk and chance. It is a common activity in all cultures and it can be as simple as betting with friends (e.g. ‘I’ll bet you a drink that the next roll of the dice won’t land on four), or as complex as investing in a new technology with the hope of high demand. It can also be a part of everyday life, such as taking a chance on the outcome of a lottery draw or playing a game of poker.

Harms associated with gambling can have a wide-range of financial, physical, psychological and cultural impacts for the person who gambles, their family, friends, and the wider community. However, it can be difficult to measure these harms, given that they are often not experienced immediately and can have long-term impacts.

Research on the relationship between gambling and health is dominated by studies of pathological gambling, which has been reclassified as a psychiatric disorder in DSM-5. These studies have shown that about 4% of people in the US meet criteria for pathological gambling, which is considered a treatable condition based on an assessment of a range of symptoms, and an assessment of the frequency and intensity of these. These symptoms can include an inability to control or stop gambling, loss of money or other assets, a change in eating and sleeping patterns, difficulty with work or school, and feelings of hopelessness. Pathological gambling is commonly accompanied by substance abuse disorders, which is why many treatment programs combine gambling cessation with substance use disorder intervention.

Our research has highlighted a number of key areas for future research. Firstly, that there is a need to better understand the breadth and nature of gambling related harms at all levels: personal, interpersonal and societal. It is important to recognise that these harms can occur at different times in people’s engagement with gambling, and can be exacerbated or generated by other factors such as depression or alcohol use disorders.

Secondly, that it is important to develop and test new interventions that address gambling harms. Currently, the majority of treatments for gambling problems are behavioural and do not specifically target the underlying causes of the problem. This is despite the fact that there are a large number of theoretical models of underlying causes of pathological gambling, and that these can be used to inform intervention development.

Finally, that there is a need to develop and implement effective strategies for preventing or reducing gambling harms. A key component of this is to help individuals realise that they have a gambling problem, and that it is causing harm to themselves or others. This can be achieved by strengthening a support network, developing healthy coping strategies, finding alternatives to gambling, and by participating in a peer support program such as Gamblers Anonymous or Gam-Anon. In addition, a good starting point is to seek professional help, such as individual and group therapy.

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