Gambling involves risking money or something of value (such as personal possessions) for the potential to win a prize. It may be for social, recreational, or entertainment purposes or as a means to improve one’s financial situation. Gambling is an activity that has a number of adverse effects on the gambler, as well as others who are affected by his or her behavior. These adverse effects include a decline in health, family and work life, increased stress levels, substance misuse, debt, and even suicide.
In the past, a variety of definitions for gambling harm have been proposed, but many of these are too vague to be useful in addressing gambling related harm from a public health perspective. A recent paper by Neal et al  found that the Queensland government’s definition of gambling harm does not specify the mechanism by which gambling harms occur, and is more focused on identifying symptoms of gambling problems rather than understanding how these symptoms relate to particular harms.
A new framework for gambling harm is being developed. This is based on extensive qualitative research with people who have experienced harm from their own gambling, or the gambling of someone close to them. This research involved focus groups and semi-structured interviews with both people who have a gambling problem and those affected by the gambling of others.
The first theme to emerge was that harms could be grouped into clear dimensions or classifications. There was a distinction between harms that were triggered by engagement with gambling, and those that occurred after the end of gambling, or as legacy harms. Harms also had a distinct temporal dimension in that they often had a point of crisis, where the impact of gambling became obvious to the person who was experiencing it.
It was also clear that some harms were more severe than others. Those that had the most significant impact on the quality of life included financial harms, those that caused erosion of savings or other assets, the inability to invest in important life events and those that restricted participation in activities such as family and social, cultural, and sporting pursuits.
There are many effective treatment options for problem gambling. Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling are some of the most effective approaches. In addition, people who have a gambling problem should be encouraged to seek peer support in groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and has a number of local chapters throughout the country. Many of these support groups have members who have successfully overcome gambling addictions and are able to offer valuable guidance to those struggling with the same issue. Lastly, people who have a gambling problem should also be encouraged to set firm boundaries in managing their finances. This is particularly important if they share a household with someone else, as it will prevent them from putting the whole family’s financial security at risk.