Public Health Impacts of Gambling

Jun 16, 2023 Gambling


Gambling is an activity where someone risks something of value – usually money – on an event with an element of chance and the aim of winning a prize. It may include placing a bet on a horse or dog race, football accumulator, scratchcard, bingo or lottery. It also includes speculating on the outcome of business, insurance or stock markets.

Problem gambling can have a range of negative impacts on an individual, their family, friends and the community. These can include harming physical and mental health, affecting relationships and performance at work or study, leaving them in serious debt and even homelessness. It can also lead to depression and suicide. Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. They are also more likely to be influenced by the culture they live in and have trouble recognizing that their gambling is out of control.

Some people are unable to recognise that their gambling is harmful, even if it has started to interfere with daily life. This can be because there are often social pressures to gamble, and because gambling is often seen as a fun pastime by those around them. It can also be because some people have a tendency to lie about their gambling or hide it from those close to them, making it difficult for others to recognise the problem and seek help.

When a person gambles, their brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. This can make them feel excited and elated when they win, but the dopamine can also be released when a person loses. This can make it hard to stop gambling when the losses start to mount up.

Studies on gambling have typically ignored social impacts, choosing instead to focus on costs and benefits that are easily quantifiable. However, this is a flawed approach, as it neglects the social impacts that are most significant.

Using a public health approach, which takes into account both costs and benefits, would allow researchers to examine the full range of gambling impacts. This would help to identify the factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s gambling participation. It could also be used to help policy makers compare different gambling policies and determine which will have the greatest positive or negative impact on society.

The main barriers to longitudinal studies on gambling are funding and logistical problems, such as the difficulties of maintaining a research team over a long period of time and issues with sample attrition. Nonetheless, the practical and methodological advantages of longitudinal studies in gambling are considerable. They provide a deeper and more comprehensive data set that can be used by multiple academic disciplines and are more cost-efficient than creating many smaller datasets. Furthermore, longitudinal studies can be designed to measure the effects of specific interventions, rather than simply looking at changes over a short period of time. It is therefore vital that more longitudinal research on gambling is carried out.

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