Gambling is an activity in which a person puts something of value, such as money, on the outcome of an event that has some degree of uncertainty. People can gamble on a number of events, including sporting activities and games of chance like poker and blackjack. People also gamble online and through video gambling machines in casinos, hotels and other venues.
Gambling can lead to a variety of problems, from financial difficulties to relationship issues. It can also cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, such as stealing money to gamble or running up huge debts. Problem gambling can affect people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. But there are ways to help if you or someone you know has a gambling problem.
The first step to addressing a problem is knowing what the warning signs are. They include:
It is important to realise that gambling is not an appropriate way to make money. The main purpose of gambling is to win a prize, and winning a prize requires risk-taking. The most common forms of gambling are placing bets on sports and events, using the pokies (video gambling machines), and purchasing lotto tickets.
In addition to the risks associated with gambling, it is important to recognise that a range of psychological and emotional harms can occur as a result of gambling. These include:
Problem gambling can be a symptom of an underlying mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. It can also be the result of a stressful life event, such as losing a job or having a relationship break-up. Problem gambling can also increase the risk of suicide, especially in teenagers.
For a person to be considered to have a gambling problem, they must have a preoccupation with gambling and an inability to control their behaviour. There are different types of gambling disorders, including compulsive gambling, pathological gambling and impulse control disorders.
Pathological gambling has been a recognised illness within the psychiatric community since the 1930s. However, in the 1980s, as a result of changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling into the addictions chapter, alongside other conditions such as kleptomania and trichotillomania.
This shift in focus allows harms to be viewed from a public health perspective and to be included from the time of the first engagement with gambling through to legacy and intergenerational harms. It also allows for the inclusion of harms experienced by those who do not engage with gambling at all, including those experiencing comorbidities. This represents a significant improvement on current pathogenic models of gambling harm that only focus on the behavioural and diagnostic elements of the behaviour.