Gambling is a form of risk-taking that involves placing a bet or stake on an event or game with the intention of winning money or other prizes. It is an activity that many people enjoy as a form of entertainment and some find addictive. However, for some people, gambling can have serious harmful consequences and lead to financial and personal problems.
Problem gambling is a complex issue and has a significant impact on the lives of those who are affected. Harms experienced can be wide ranging and can include emotional, social and physical harms. These impacts can have long-lasting and severe effects on the lives of those who suffer from a gambling problem. While there are some specialised programmes available to help treat gambling addiction, it is important that people seek treatment as soon as they realise that their gambling has become problematic.
Despite the existence of harms, efforts to address gambling related harm have been hindered by the lack of a consistent definition and appropriate means of measuring harm. Existing measurement strategies are often based on measures of gambling behaviour or prevalence and do not adequately capture the complexity and breadth of harm. In this paper, we present a new functional definition of harm that is grounded in a public health approach and allows for the inclusion of the influence of comorbidities.
This definition was developed by using a literature review and a series of focus groups with a mix of individuals who reported gambling related harms (n = 27) and interviewing them in person. This process was complemented by semi-structured interviews with a further 25 individuals who identified as either: (1) a person who gambled or (2) an affected other of a person who gambled.
The key criteria for inclusion in the final harms definition was that harms could be attributed to gambling behaviour or actions and that these harms were negative and had a real impact on the individual’s life. It was also agreed that the concept of harm should be inclusive of all a person’s experiences with gambling and not only those that occur at the diagnostic point of problem gambling or during engagement with the behaviour. In addition, the definition was expanded to include legacy harms – those harms that continue to be experienced even after the person’s gambling has stopped.
The most common types of gambling-related harms cited by the participants were those relating to relationships, especially those within the family unit. These were frequently described as the most significant and difficult to quantify. A key threshold in seeking assistance and/or treatment was identified as when the harm to a primary relationship caused a breakdown or threat to the relationship. The second most commonly cited harm was the erosion of savings and financial resources that could be used to fund other discretionary or luxury items, such as holidays, entertainment or electronic equipment. This was a result of the loss of rational choice to prioritise gambling over other activities that could be funded from excess income.