Gambling and the Concept of Harm

Gambling is an activity in which people stake something of value, often money, on the outcome of a future contingent event not under their control or influence. The activity may involve betting on sporting events, horse races and other forms of lotteries. It may also involve casino games like poker, fruit machines and slot machines. The term may be used to describe other activities that involve risk, such as lottery sales, bingo and speculating on business, stock markets or insurance.

Many people gamble, either on a regular basis or as part of an occasional pastime. For some, this can become a problem. It can have a negative impact on their physical and mental health, their relationships with friends and family, their work performance and financial stability. It can even lead to homelessness, crime or suicide.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the harms associated with gambling. In response, treatment providers and policy makers have emphasised the importance of harm minimisation. However, the concept of harm is complex and there is no consensus on its definition or measurement. This article aims to create a dialogue that will result in a more coherent interpretation of harm across treatment providers, policy makers and researchers.

The definition of harm as an outcome, rather than a symptom or cause of harmful behaviour, is important in the context of this debate. It separates it from categorisations of behaviour, clinical diagnosis and risk factors, and allows for the inclusion of a broader range of consequences. Furthermore, it recognises that gambling related harms do not occur in isolation and is more consistent with public health approaches to measuring the outcomes of health related behaviours.

This is important because research has shown that a person’s tendency to gamble can be affected by a number of environmental and biological factors. These include an individual’s genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity, as well as an underactive brain reward system. Other contributing factors include depression, stress, substance misuse and anxiety.

For some people, gambling becomes a way to relieve unpleasant feelings or to unwind. This can be a dangerous and difficult habit to break, but help is available. Taking up other hobbies, spending time with friends who don’t gamble and learning healthier ways to manage emotions are all good ways to reduce the urge to gamble. In addition, addressing any underlying mood disorders is essential to reduce the risk of gambling related harm. Speak to one of our counsellors for free, confidential advice. Call us on 0808 8000 288 or email.