Gambling is a social activity where people risk money or something else of value to predict a random event and win or lose a prize. This could be on a scratchcard, a fruit machine or by betting with friends.

The harms experienced by those who gamble or the people they affect are complex and diverse, and can have negative consequences for a person’s health and wellbeing. These consequences can be felt across a range of domains, including emotional and psychological wellbeing; financial health; and the family, relationship and community.

It is a widely accepted that gambling is a harmful behaviour and is associated with poor mental and physical health, despite its relatively low prevalence in the Australian population (1% of adults). However, current public health approaches to gambling and prevention primarily make reference to harm minimisation rather than the concept of harms and their causes, which are poorly understood. The lack of a comprehensive and internationally agreed definition of gambling related harms limits the development of effective prevention strategies, policy and research.

There is evidence that problem gambling is a significant problem among youth, especially young adults and college age people. This suggests that there are broader developmental issues and social pressures at play for this age group, which contribute to higher rates of problem gambling.

Relationship Harms

There was a high level of relationship harms identified within the data, particularly for children or other family members affected by the gambling of others. This included instances where a person had shifted to a role of carer in the absence of their partner or another adult in their lives; the child(ren) had taken on financial management responsibilities and responsibility for food and other necessities in a bid to prevent their parent engaging with gambling; and children were withdrawn from school because of their parents’ gambling.

These instances were accompanied by relationship problems and conflict, which was exacerbated in the case of the child(ren) taking on carer roles, as this impacted negatively on their own mental health. There was also a heightened sense of shame and stigma experienced by those who were affected by gambling, as well as the wider family unit.

Financial harms were also a major area of concern. Firstly, there was a loss of discretionary income and savings due to a reduction in the capacity to purchase luxury items such as holidays or electronic equipment. Secondly, there was a shift in the purchasing decision, where gambling products were deemed to be more attractive and more profitable than other options available from discretionary income.

Thirdly, there was a decrement to biophysical health through a reduced capacity to engage in physical activities, poor sleep practices, lack of compliance with medication or reduced personal hygiene. Lastly, there was a decrement to the person’s mental health through a decrease in self-esteem and the development of behavioural, social or cognitive problems associated with the gambling habits.

These harms were largely attributed to the person’s loss of control over their gambling. Those who engaged in gambling reported that they relied on gambling to self-soothe unpleasant feelings, and unwind, or socialise. This can be a difficult habit to break, but it is possible to find healthier ways of coping with stressful events, unwinding after a day at work or following an argument with your partner.