The Harms of Gambling


Gambling is when you wager something of value (money or materials) on the outcome of a game of chance with the hope of winning more than what you risked. It also includes betting on a sporting event or other events where the outcome is uncertain, such as the lottery. It is considered a recreational activity for some people and a problem behaviour for others.

It can lead to significant financial losses, as well as harms to a person’s family and other relationships, health, work, study and other economic activities. It is often accompanied by social distancing, guilt, shame and/or anger. It can lead to a lack of self-respect, and can increase the risk of depression and substance use disorders.

In the past, people have gambled using a variety of objects and methods. For example, marbles and rudimentary dice have been used to play games of chance; more recently electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones have been used to gamble. Today, people can gamble with money or other items of value online or through a range of other activities such as scratchcards and fruit machines.

The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to around 2,300 B.C. when tiles were found in China that appeared to be used for a rudimentary form of gambling. In the modern world, gambling takes many forms, including playing video and computer games, lotteries, sports bets, bingo and racing.

While it is possible to overcome a gambling addiction, it can be difficult and take time. The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem. Many people find it helpful to talk about their issues with a trained professional, such as a therapist or counsellor. There are a number of treatment options available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which looks at beliefs about gambling and how they relate to behaviour.

Some people struggle with gambling because of underlying mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. These can trigger or make gambling worse, so it is important to seek help if you are worried about your own or someone else’s mental health.

The initial themes that emerged from the data showed that harms experienced from gambling occurred in a broad range of domains in a person’s life, and were complex to identify and classify. Initially, six different thematic classifications of harm were identified: those relating to finances, those affecting relationships, psychological or emotional harms, impacts on work, study or economic activity, and cultural harms.

Legacy harms were then added to the classifications because they continue to occur, or emerge, even after a person’s engagement with gambling has ended. This was a way of emphasising that harms related to gambling do not cease once the behaviour has stopped. This is a key feature of the definition of gambling disorder in DSM-5, which places it within the category of behavioral addictions and in line with other addictive substances and behaviours.