Gambling and Harm


Gambling is a common activity that people engage in to try and win money or other prizes. It can be as simple as placing a bet on an event, buying a Lotto ticket or tossing a coin in the air. Whether it’s for fun or for profit, gambling can lead to harm for individuals, families and communities. It’s important to understand the risks associated with gambling, as well as how to get help if you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s behaviour.

In the United States, gambling is regulated by both state and federal laws. The federal government uses its authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate interstate and international gambling, as well as to prohibit certain types of gambling. State governments pass legislation to regulate the types, amounts and means of gambling, as well as the locations where it can occur.

Research on gambling and harm has been conducted across many disciplines, including psychiatry. In the past, the psychiatric community has regarded pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, which was a vague category that included kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). In May 2015, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling to the Addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Harms from gambling have a wide range of financial, physical, psychological and social consequences for the person who gambles, as well as their families and communities. However, there is no robust and inclusive internationally agreed upon definition of harm in relation to gambling. Current studies of harm often employ symptomatology as a proxy measure, which is problematic because it fails to capture the underlying mechanisms and impact of gambling related harms.

The research presented in this paper was conducted using a mixed methods approach, consisting of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with a total of 25 participants who identified as either a person who gambled or as someone affected by another’s gambling. Interviews were conducted in person and by telephone. Data was analysed using a combination of thematic and content analysis techniques.

Those with a gambling problem can receive help from counselling, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT helps people to change their thoughts and beliefs about betting. For example, people who struggle with gambling often believe that they are more likely to win than they really are and that certain rituals can increase their luck. CBT can also help them to recognise their urges and think about alternative ways to manage their gambling. There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders, but there is evidence that CBT can be effective. The most important thing is to seek help if you’re concerned about your or someone else’s gambling. Reach out to friends and family or consider a self-help group such as Gamblers Anonymous. It’s also important to postpone gambling if you’re feeling the urge and find other activities to do instead. This will give you time to think about what is causing the problem and can stop you from impulsively betting your hard-earned money.