Gambling is an activity where people place a bet or wager on something that they believe has value and may have an uncertain outcome. It can involve a small stake (money), a large stake (risk) or even a chance to win a prize.
Some people gamble as a way to relax, relieve unpleasant feelings or socialise with others. However, there are healthier ways to relieve these feelings. Practicing relaxation techniques, exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and taking up new hobbies are all good ways to de-stress.
Problem gambling is an addictive behaviour that can lead to significant harm, including health problems and suicide. It is important to screen for this condition and refer people to treatment if it appears to be having an impact on their lives.
Identifying harm is an essential step in reducing its impact on the person who gambles and their family members. Harm minimisation is a major theme in public health approaches to prevention and treatment of problem gambling and there is a growing evidence base that supports this approach.
The harm that people experience from gambling is multi-dimensional and complex. It includes financial and life course impacts such as poor credit ratings, reliance on more expensive credit products or pay as you go options, and poorer social outcomes such as homelessness. It also includes legacy or second order harms such as poorer relationships, depression and suicidal ideation.
To develop a coherent and more consistent understanding of gambling related harm, we developed a conceptual framework based on the three levels at which gambling harm occurs: at the individual level of the person who gambles; at the level of those affected by the person’s gambling; and in the broader community. The framework captures the breadth and experience of harm in a way that is meaningful to treatment providers, policy makers and researchers alike.
Defining harm is an important step in the development of harm minimisation, which is an essential component of all gambling prevention and treatment strategies. Nevertheless, there is a significant lack of consensus in the current literature regarding harm and its definition. This lack of clarity has created a number of challenges and confusions for those developing and using harm measures to assess the impact of gambling related harm.
In this article, we review the literature on harm minimisation and gambling to provide an overview of current evidence and highlight key gaps in the literature. We also describe the key findings from a research project that investigated the experiences of harm and its impact across three levels: the individual who gambles, those affected by their gambling and the broader community.
Harm Minimisation and Gambling
A harm minimisation approach to gambling involves a reframe of the problem that is associated with gambling. This includes recognising the negative consequences of gambling and identifying strategies to minimise those consequences, such as limiting the amount of money spent on gambling.
It also recognises that people who gamble have a compulsion to gamble and the need to reduce, control or abstain from the activity in order to protect themselves and their families from further harm. In addition, it emphasises that if a person experiences a threshold or crisis, such as a loss of a large amount of money or an inability to continue with their usual lifestyle, then they should seek assistance for the problem.