Public Health and Gambling

Gambling Apr 5, 2024

Gambling is an activity where someone places something of value – money, belongings or time – on an event with an element of randomness or chance and the intent to win something else of value. This can be in the form of games of skill, such as poker and blackjack, or of chance, such as dice games, roulette or bingo. Speculation on business, insurance or stock markets also constitutes gambling. Gambling is a popular pastime and can be enjoyed by all ages and socioeconomic groups, but it has many negative consequences. These can include addiction, depression and even suicide. It is also known to cause problems in family relationships and erode personal finances. It is important for those suffering from gambling problems to seek help and support.

Some people become addicted to gambling because they have a predisposition for it. This may be genetic, or it could be due to a psychological or emotional trauma in their past. People with these predispositions can have dramatic changes in the way their brain sends chemical messages, which leads to compulsive behaviour. The desire for a quick fix can overtake rational thinking, and this is often how a gambler becomes trapped in an addictive cycle.

Another reason why some people become addicted to gambling is because they like the feeling it gives them. The sense of excitement and anticipation creates a natural high, which can be compared to the feeling that comes from drug use. When a person wins, they get a shot of dopamine which can make them feel on top of the world. They will then want to experience this feeling again and again. This can lead to them gambling more and more, which can cause financial difficulties.

Despite the risks, some individuals enjoy gambling and do not develop an addiction. For them, it is a fun and entertaining pastime that provides an escape from everyday life. They may enjoy it for social reasons, or to relieve boredom, depression, stress, grief, or simply to avoid thinking about their problems. The media portrays gambling as glamorous and fashionable, which further contributes to its popularity amongst many individuals.

While research on gambling has focused on its economic impacts, studies of its social costs and benefits have largely been overlooked. A public health approach to gambling can provide a valuable framework for exploring these issues. Social impact can be assessed using a range of tools, including disability weights – which measure the per-person burden on health-related quality of life.

Social impacts of gambling are categorized as personal, interpersonal and community/societal levels (Fig. 1). Personal impacts are those that affect the gambler directly, while interpersonal and societal/community impacts affect those close to the gambler – family members and friends. For example, the effects of gambling on family relationships can be seen through financial difficulties and debt accumulation resulting from the habit. In some cases, these impacts can escalate to bankruptcy and homelessness. Alternatively, some families are able to recover from gambling by practicing responsible behavior and attending recovery programs or treatment facilities.