Gambling and the Definition of Harm


Gambling is a major international commercial activity, with a legal market worth over $335 billion in 2009. Gambling involves betting money or something of value on the outcome of an event, such as a lottery, casino game or sports match. The stakes can be as low as a single penny in a scratchcard or as high as the jackpot on a slot machine. Gambling can also involve wagering with items that have a value, such as marbles or collectable game pieces (such as those in the games of Pogs and Magic: The Gathering).

Research has shown that gambling is addictive. People who are addicted to gambling may experience the same symptoms as people who are addicted to drugs. The good news is that treatment is available for anyone suffering from gambling addiction. Psychiatrists can help treat the problem by prescribing medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives, to control cravings and reduce anxiety. They can also offer therapy based on cognitive-behavioral techniques, which teach people to change their irrational beliefs about gambling. For example, an addict might learn to challenge the irrational belief that a recent string of losses or a near miss on a slot machine will lead to a big win.

Despite the wide availability of gambling and the evidence that it can be harmful, a precise definition of harm in relation to gambling has not yet been developed. The absence of a clear definition of harm is partly due to the multidisciplinary nature of the field and the different perspectives and understandings that exist between researchers from different disciplines.

An important step in reducing gambling related harm is to establish a functional definition of harm. This definition should allow for a range of harms that are associated with gambling behaviour, from those that are not considered to be problematic to those that meet the criteria of pathological gambling (PG) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV). It should also consider broader consequences of gambling, including impacts on family and community.

For families, it is important to have a discussion with your loved one about how much they are going to gamble and for how long. This is particularly important for elderly parents who are at a higher risk for developing a gambling disorder. Families should also establish a gambling budget and agree on rules and expectations for their family member. In addition, it is important to educate all members of the family on what to look out for, and how to respond if signs of addiction are identified. Family interventions that have been shown to be effective include setting a budget, placing some of the money in a bank account that cannot be accessed easily, limiting gambling time, and having full transparency about gambling activities. Lastly, it is important to seek professional support for yourself as well as your loved one. Get matched with a therapist for free today.