Gambling and Public Health

Gambling involves risking something of value (such as money) on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the intent of winning something else of value. Instances of strategy are discounted and the gambler is always a loser if they wager more than they can afford to lose.

People gamble for a variety of reasons. Some are driven by the dream of a big win, while others feel they need to socialise with friends or take their mind off other things in their life. Some people feel a sense of euphoria while gambling, which is linked to the brain’s reward system.

Problem gambling can affect anyone, and can have a serious impact on health, work and personal relationships. It is important to seek help if you are worried about your own gambling or the gambling of someone close to you.

For many people, gambling becomes a form of self-medication for underlying issues such as anxiety or depression. It can also be a way to escape from financial problems or family issues. The first step to getting help is to talk to your GP, who can refer you for specialist support such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Most public health approaches to gambling focus on harm minimisation. The definition of harm varies across treatment providers and policy makers. Since Neal et al [1] and Currie et al [4], it has been acknowledged that the lack of an operational definition of harm limits its measurement. The purpose of this article is to propose a functional definition and a taxonomy of gambling harms that can be used to measure and quantify the impact on a person who gambles, their affected others and their community consistent with social models of health.