Gambling and Its Effects on Health, Wellbeing and Relationships

Gambling involves placing something of value on the outcome of a random event where strategies are not employed. It is a form of risk-taking behaviour that can be pleasurable or problematic and is classified as an impulse control disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Problem gambling can have a variety of negative impacts on health, wellbeing, relationships and performance at work and study. It can also be financially damaging and lead to homelessness and even suicide.

It is not clear what causes people to gamble, but a number of factors are linked with the risk of gambling problems. These include family background, education, economic status, personality traits, and other life circumstances. Some types of gambling are more addictive than others, but it is important to note that all forms of gambling can result in problems if a person’s risk tolerance is exceeded.

The prevalence of gambling among young people is increasing across the world. Youth engage in a wide range of activities, from lottery and scratch-offs to casino games, sports betting and online gambling. This proliferation of opportunities has led to a decline in stigma around the activity and a greater acceptance of it as a normal part of social life. This trend has given rise to a new type of research paradigm known as practice theory, which emphasises the social and ritual elements of the act of gambling. It has a strong resonance with critical and normative theories of the social construction of the phenomenon, and provides a new avenue for understanding why some people become gamblers and others do not.

A growing body of evidence has shown that adolescent engagement in gambling is influenced by socio-cultural factors such as notions of mateship, social status, hedonism and thrill and adventure. In addition, gambling is heavily marketed to young people through a variety of media channels and appeals to cultural constructs such as the idea of luck, chance, fate and karma. These marketing strategies have been shown to influence both the likelihood of individuals engaging in the behaviour and their level of involvement.

Adolescents who gamble are more likely to be male, have more hyperactivity and conduct problems, have higher sensation seeking scores and lower academic achievement, have less stable employment, and be living with mothers with low educational qualifications than those who do not gamble. However, a large proportion of the ALSPAC sample was lost to follow up at age 24 years, and therefore, models for the prediction of regular gambling were constructed using only those antecedents that were significant after full adjustment at one or more time points (see supplementary Table 5).

It is vital to recognise that gambling can be harmful and take steps to avoid it. There are a number of ways to reduce the likelihood of developing problems, including setting time limits and making sure gambling doesn’t interfere with, or replace, friends, work or other enjoyable activities. It is also important to realise that gambling is not a way to make money and that losses are inevitable. It is particularly important to not chase your losses – the more you try to win back what you have lost, the bigger your losses will be.