The Dangers of Gambling

Gambling is any activity in which you risk something of value, such as your money or possessions, for a chance at winning a prize. It can happen anywhere: in casinos, racetracks, bingo halls, online and on TV. It can include card games, video poker and slot machines, as well as betting on horse and dog races, football accumulators, lottery numbers and election results. Speculation, or gambling on business or economics, can also be considered gambling.

While gambling may provide some people with an enjoyable diversion, it can have harmful psychological and financial repercussions for others. It can impact relationships, work or study performance, and lead to legal problems and homelessness. It can also cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and result in gastrointestinal problems. Problem gamblers are more likely to attempt suicide than those who do not have a gambling addiction, and it is estimated that about 400 suicides each year are associated with gambling-related problems in England (NHS Digital 2019).

There is no one type of gambling behaviour that is more or less problematic than another. Different people have different preferences for different types of gambling, and their preferences can change over time. For example, some people prefer a more social environment with live music and drinks, while others like the fast pace of electronic gaming machines. Many people are influenced by the advertising they see, with particular appeals to socio-cultural constructs such as rituals, mateship, social status, winning and success, and hedonism.

Research on gambling behaviour has traditionally been framed through a variety of psychological and economic models, but this is beginning to change. A growing corpus of research utilising a practice theory approach to gambling is contributing to an increased understanding of the factors that underpin problematic behaviours. This perspective focuses on elements of practice such as norms, rituals and discourse and can help bridge the gap between critical and normative approaches to gambling.

In order to reduce the harm caused by gambling, it is important for people to develop a healthy relationship with money and a realistic view of what can be achieved through gambling. People should only gamble with disposable income and never use money that needs to be saved for bills or rent, and try to balance gambling activities with other fun things such as socialising, exercise, or hobbies. It is also important to avoid chasing your losses, as the chances of winning back your lost money are very slim.

If you are concerned about your own gambling behaviour, talk to a trusted friend or family member, or consider seeking professional advice such as behavioural therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Learn to self-soothe unpleasant feelings in healthier ways such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, taking up new hobbies or practicing relaxation techniques. If you are finding it difficult to break your gambling habit, seek support from a peer group such as Gamblers Anonymous. A sponsor, a former gambler with experience of remaining free from gambling addiction, can be a great source of encouragement and advice.