Gambling is a form of risk-taking in which people stake money or items of value on an outcome with an element of chance or randomness. It may be done in many ways, including scratchcards, video-draw poker machines, slots, two-up, betting on horse and greyhound races or football accumulators, or through gambling websites, bookmakers and casinos.
There is a range of harms associated with gambling. These include the negative impact on health and wellbeing, relationships with friends and family, performance at work or school, finances and credit, and legal issues. It can also have a serious effect on the mental health of those affected by problem gambling, with some studies suggesting that there is a link between gambling problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
Despite the prevalence of gambling, it is not well understood. Research is needed to understand the causes of gambling related harm and how these can be addressed. A clear definition of harm is essential to guide future research and policy development. The current definition of harm focuses on consequences rather than categorisations of gambling behaviour or symptoms, and is consistent with public health approaches to measuring outcomes .
It is important to consider both the immediate and longer-term effects of harmful gambling on individuals and families. For example, it is important to recognise the risks of gambling-related harm to financial health, as this can lead to debt and bankruptcy. It is also important to be aware of the potential harms to mental health, as this can affect a person’s self-esteem, mood and socialisation.
In addition, there are a range of indirect harms associated with gambling such as loss of family time and enjoyment, and the erosion of savings and financial resources that could be used for discretionary items or to fulfil other needs and aspirations. It is also important to consider the impact of the use of gambling products that are designed to keep people engaging with them, such as online gambling sites and electronic devices.
Many people who gamble do so to try and relieve unpleasant feelings or to distract themselves from boredom. However, there are many healthier and safer ways of doing so, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or practicing relaxation techniques. In the past, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). In May 2015, the American Psychiatric Association decided that pathological gambling should be classed as an addiction, alongside substance abuse disorders and eating disorders. This change was reflected in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published this year.