Gambling is an activity involving the risk of something of value (money, property or personal possessions) on an event with a random component with the aim of winning something else of value. The activity can involve the use of skill but is often characterised by discounting the importance of strategy, for example in sports betting where a team might bet against itself to mitigate the financial repercussions of a losing season. The term ‘gambling’ also covers the activities of lottery ticket sales, horse and greyhound racing, football accumulators and other forms of gambling on business or stock markets.
There are many reasons why people gamble, including coping with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and for social reasons. For a person with an addiction to gambling, the behaviour can be compulsive and difficult to control. In some cases, it can lead to debt and money problems.
Problem gambling affects the wellbeing of the person engaging in it, as well as others – their family and wider community. It is therefore important to consider the impact of the behaviour on all these different levels. The concept of legacy harms was developed to address the fact that harmful effects of gambling can persist even after the engagement with gambling has ceased through changes in someone’s own or someone else’s behaviour, as evidenced by ongoing financial problems, relationship difficulties and health-related concerns.
Research on the causes of gambling disorders is growing, with a focus on cognitive and motivational biases that distort the perceived odds of events, and influence a person’s preference for specific types of bets. There is a particular interest in exploring the interaction between gambling and mood, with evidence that up to 50% of pathological gamblers have a lifetime diagnosis of depressive disorder, and that these disorders are linked with a higher risk of gambling problems.
In the DSM-5, gambling disorder is now included as a behavioral addiction and has been placed in a new category on behavioral addictions alongside substance-related disorders due to similar features of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and physiology. This has raised awareness of the need to take a similar approach to treatment as is used for substance-related addictions.
If you or a loved one has a gambling addiction, it’s important to seek help. There are a number of treatment and recovery options, from self-help support groups like Gamblers Anonymous to more intensive residential programs. You can also access free debt advice from StepChange if your financial situation is at risk. It can be a big step to admit you have a gambling problem, especially if it has caused debt or strained relationships. But remember that many others have overcome their addictions and rebuild their lives. Don’t try and go it alone – it could be dangerous for your physical and emotional health. Speak to a counsellor online or by phone in complete confidence. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7. Start a conversation today.