Gambling is an activity in which a person stakes something of value on an uncertain event with the intent to win something else of value. The wager can be money, goods or services. The activity can be undertaken in a variety of settings including casinos, racetracks, at sporting events or on the internet. The word ‘gamble’ is also used to refer to any risky venture, such as investing in a new business or taking on debt. The objective of gambling is to generate a positive return, but there are a number of factors that can lead to negative outcomes, including addiction, financial loss and family discord.
Research has been limited by a lack of standardised measures for the evaluation of gambling related harm. The most effective method for identifying and measuring the impact of gambling on individuals, families and communities is longitudinal research. This approach allows for the identification of antecedents, consequences and mediators in the context of a naturalistic setting. It also provides the opportunity for more rigorous testing of causal theories (e.g., demonstrating that the increase in harms caused by gambling is not simply the result of an increased interest in the activity).
In the past, researchers have relied on symptoms to measure harm associated with gambling. While symptomatology does have a strong association with harm, it is not a precise measure of the effects of gambling and fails to take into account the complexity of how gambling can cause and exacerbate a range of adverse consequences. More recently, the literature has moved away from symptomatology and is moving towards more sophisticated, theory based approaches to the measurement of harm associated with gambling.
One such approach involves using behavioural proxy measures. These measures focus on a person’s gambling behaviour rather than on a particular set of diagnostic criteria. They are therefore less restrictive and may be easier to use in real-world settings where it is more difficult to access diagnostic tools. Nonetheless, these behavioural proxy measures do not capture the full range of harms that are associated with gambling and they are unlikely to be sufficient in their own right to inform a policy and practice agenda.
A key first step in tackling gambling is to recognize that there is a problem and seek help. While this can be a daunting proposition, many people have successfully broken free of the addictive cycle of betting and found ways to rebuild their lives. Those seeking help should consider enlisting the support of friends and family, joining a recovery program such as Gamblers Anonymous or seeking professional assistance from a therapist who has experience treating gambling disorder. They should also work to strengthen their support network by pursuing alternative activities that are not focused on gambling, such as reading books or enrolling in educational classes. Lastly, they should try to build up their savings and reduce their spending on non-essentials. This will give them a better chance of being able to weather any financial losses.