The Social Impact of Gambling

Gambling involves placing something of value (money, items of personal significance) on an uncertain event with a chance of winning a prize. This can range from betting small amounts on football matches or scratchcards, to putting money down on sophisticated casino games. Whether it is done legally or illegally, gambling occurs in many places and forms, from the purchase of lottery tickets at local gas stations to playing roulette in a Las Vegas hotel room.

In terms of negative impacts on individuals, gamblers may feel they are in control of their gambling, but the reality is that they cannot control the outcome. They can, however, control how much they spend on betting and the way they use their money, which can help to keep them within budget. Likewise, they can also control their emotions and avoid situations where their urges to gamble will be triggered.

The problem is that most studies ignore the impact of gambling on the gambler or their significant others, preferring to focus on financial costs and benefits, which are quite easily quantifiable. However, a public health approach could uncover other, intangible social harms associated with gambling. This would be possible by calculating the impact using health-related quality of life (HRQL) weights, or disability weights, which allow us to measure the burden on a person’s quality of life.

A common misconception among gamblers is that their chances of winning increase with each loss, but this is not true. The probability of winning a given game remains the same, regardless of how often a gambler wins or loses. Our brains like to rationalise this, with a typical example being flipping a coin – if it comes up tails seven times in a row, the gambler will attempt to convince themselves that the next spin will balance out and be heads.

Ultimately, the problem with gambling is that it is a mind-altering activity that can have profoundly negative effects on people’s lives and their families, especially those with mental health issues. Despite this, some people find that it is an enjoyable diversion, while others struggle to overcome their addiction and become stuck in a cycle of debt and ruined relationships.

If you are a family member of a problem gambler, it is important to know that there are resources available. Consider reaching out to a support group for family members of problem gamblers or joining Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous and is a proven way to overcome gambling problems. Alternatively, you could seek inpatient or residential treatment and rehab programs for problem gamblers, which are specifically designed to offer round-the-clock care and support. In addition, you can take steps to protect yourself by avoiding high-risk situations, such as using credit cards or carrying large sums of cash with you, going to casinos or other gambling establishments for socialising or chasing losses, and using gambling as a reaction to negative emotions. You can also strengthen your support network by talking about the issue with friends and family.