Gambling Harms – A Broad Definition


Gambling is a risky activity where someone risks money or something of value for the chance of winning it back. It can include things like gambling on sporting events, lottery tickets and fruit machines.

People who gamble may also be at risk of developing financial problems and other health issues, such as mental health disorders. They can also have trouble with their relationships, get into debt and be unable to work or study.

Problem gambling is a serious issue in the UK and can lead to financial difficulties, legal problems, poor mental and physical health, relationship breakdowns and homelessness. It is estimated that more than 400 suicides per year are linked to problem gambling.

Harms associated with Gambling: A broad definition

The term ‘harm’ is a defining concept in the social model of health and the broader health research field. However, the definition of harm is highly subjective and there is a lack of agreement on how to define gambling related harms. It is therefore important that a clear and consistent definition of gambling related harm be developed to facilitate a robust assessment and evaluation of harms and interventions to reduce them.

A broader definition of gambling harms can also help to clarify the nature of harm that can occur from engaging with gambling, without actually participating in the behaviour. This is particularly important for those who have experienced the impact of gambling but are not diagnosed as having a problem.

Generally, gambling harms can be categorised into three groups: general financial harms, relationship distortion and behavioural harms. This approach to identifying harms is important because it provides the ability to clearly separate the different impacts of gambling from other causes or symptoms of problem gambling.

General financial harms were described as a range of activities undertaken by the person who gambled or an affected other to manage short term cash flow issues, with the main focus being on using gambling products for either funds generation or debt generation. These harms were often reported by individuals at the point of crisis, where they had used their surplus income or financial resources to the extent that they were not able to sustain themselves and their families with their current level of engagement with gambling.

Relationship harms were identified as a variety of experiences where the person who gambled distorted the primary relationship of the person being harmed by their gambling. This included a breakdown in the primary relationship between the person who gambled and their partner, children or other close family members. Similarly, where the person who gambled influenced an affected other in their gambling behaviour, there were instances where this could lead to a breakdown of the affected person’s primary relationship and/or a threat to their safety.

Behavioral harms were also reported by the person who gambled and their affected others in terms of the distorted cognitions, beliefs and behaviour that accompanied the escalated gambling behaviour. This could be a result of cognitive restructuring or erroneous thoughts about the benefits of gambling, as well as feelings of powerlessness to control the gambling behaviours and recoup losses.

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