Public Health Approaches to Gambling

Gambling is an activity where something of value (typically money) is placed at risk on the outcome of an event with an element of chance and the possibility to win a prize. It can take many forms, from betting on a football game to buying instant scratch cards. Regardless of the form it takes, gambling has the potential to cause harm. Harm can impact on health, relationships and work or study performance, and can lead to serious debt and homelessness.

Researchers have identified factors that contribute to problematic gambling, such as a person’s genetic predisposition for thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. People who gamble may also have difficulties processing rewards, controlling impulses and weighing risks. People who gamble often have a tendency to re-gamble after losses, which can worsen their problems.

It is important to recognise that gambling can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing, and that this risk increases with the frequency of gambling and the amount of money being staked. However, many people struggle to recognise when their gambling is causing harm or distress. This can make it difficult to seek help and support. It is also common to hide or lie about how much time and money is being spent on gambling.

There are a range of treatment options for problem gambling. In general, therapy helps a person gain control over their gambling, and reduce or stop it altogether. Therapy can include individual, group and family therapy. For people with severe gambling problems, inpatient or residential treatment and rehab programs are available.

The objective of harm minimisation is central to public health approaches to gambling, but this is not always easy. Harm related to gambling is highly subjective and complex, and it can be difficult to isolate and measure specific harms. It is also difficult to determine the extent to which harms can be caused by or interact with other comorbid conditions, such as alcohol abuse or depression.

There are a number of things that can be done to help reduce the risks associated with gambling, such as setting monetary and time limits for yourself, only playing with money you can afford to lose, and never chasing your losses. You can also seek help for underlying mental health problems that might be contributing to your gambling. These could include depression, anxiety or stress, which can trigger gambling and also be made worse by it. It is also important to develop healthy ways of relieving unpleasant feelings, such as exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or trying relaxation techniques. It is also helpful to learn new skills to manage moods and emotions in more constructive ways, such as attending counselling or participating in group therapy.