Gambling involves risking something of value, for example money, in the hope of gaining more of it. It activates the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can and, if it becomes compulsive, can lead to financial, physical, psychological and social harm to the individual, their family and community. People who experience gambling related harm may lose work or career opportunities, struggle with relationships and become homeless or in serious debt. They can also be prone to stealing and committing fraud to support their addiction. They can even commit suicide. Harm is widespread and the impact is exacerbated by how frequently and with how much money people gamble.
Harm minimisation is a key focus for public health approaches to problem gambling. However, the term ‘harm’ is not well understood and there are variations in how it is used and interpreted across different disciplines that study gambling. This is partly due to the fact that it is an intuitive and highly subjective concept, reflecting a social model of health.
This project sought to develop a clearer and more consistent interpretation of harm, with the aim of providing an evidence base that will aid in the prevention and treatment of gambling problems. This was achieved through a combination of methodologies including a literature review, focus groups and interviews with professionals involved in the prevention and treatment of gambling problems, interviews with people who gamble and their affected others, analysis of a range of public gambling forums, and data from national statistical sources. The results of this work have led to the development of a definition and conceptualisation of gambling related harm that is:
It includes all instances of harm, from a diagnostic point of problem gambling through to legacy and intergenerational harms. This approach reflects the definition of harm used by public health authorities and is more consistent with a social model of health.
The first level of general harm identified is the loss of capacity to purchase goods or activities that are not necessities; items or activities purchased with surplus income, financial or financial resources. This can include the erosion of savings, the utilisation of other discretionary and luxury items, and the withdrawal from artistic, cultural, sporting or educational activities.
The second level of general harms identified is the utilisation of other sources of short term funding to fund gambling. These can include credit cards, loans and advances from friends and family, cash advances, overdrafts, pawning personal or property and other types of credit. This can include the use of these sources to meet gambling expenditure or to fund other comorbid disorders such as substance misuse, depression or anxiety.