Many people gamble on a regular basis, whether they buy lotto tickets, bet on sports or place a bet at the pokies. Some are able to control their gambling and do not suffer harm but for others the behaviour can cause problems, damaging relationships, health and even leading to bankruptcy and homelessness. It can also have a negative impact on their performance at work or study. It is important to understand that it is not just the person gambling who is harmed, other family members and friends can suffer too.

Harm from Gambling

The concept of harm is complex and subjective as it is not possible to capture all the potential consequences of gambling. However, harm is an important component in defining a problem gambling context and there are several categories of harm that may occur:

These can include financial, personal and psychological. Financial harms can be in the form of loss of money or valuables, loss of employment, the inability to pay debts and the inability to manage credit. Personal harms can include relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety and stress. Psychological harms can include suicidal thoughts and a decreased sense of well-being.

A variety of treatment programs exist for those with a gambling disorder, from outpatient to inpatient and residential services. Cognitive-behaviour therapy is a common treatment and has been shown to be effective in helping people control their gambling. The therapy helps them to resist unwanted thoughts and habits, such as chasing their losses or believing that a string of losses or a near miss (e.g. two out of three cherries on a slot machine) is an indication that they are due for a win.

Inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs are aimed at those with severe gambling addictions who cannot stop their gambling without round-the-clock support. Some of these programs also provide family therapy and other support for affected individuals. Peer support groups have also been found to be effective in helping people overcome their gambling addiction, such as Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Physical activity is a good way to combat cravings, especially when combined with social activities. Research has also shown that reducing stress levels can help individuals with an addictive behaviour, including gambling, to quit.

If you are concerned that someone you know has a gambling problem speak with one of our counsellors, it is free and confidential. You can also call the national helpline on 1-800-662-HELP. It’s also a good idea to strengthen your support network and make new friends who don’t engage in gambling-related activities. Consider joining a book club, taking up a sport, signing up for an education class or volunteering with a worthy cause. You could also try attending a self-help group for families, such as Gam-Anon. Family and marriage counselling can help you work through the specific issues arising from a loved one’s gambling problem and lay the foundation for repairing damaged relationships. It is also a good idea to set boundaries when it comes to managing finances, and consider seeking debt or credit counseling.

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