Gambling and Its Impacts on Individuals, Families, and Communities


Gambling involves wagering something of value, usually money, on an event with a chance of winning something else of value (such as a prize or jackpot). It can be done in person, at home, online, or in the casino. It is often considered to be a risky activity that can lead to serious consequences. Gambling is considered a problem when it negatively impacts the individual, family, and community. Several types of treatment are available for people who have gambling disorders. These include individual and family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. Some individuals also benefit from medications.

A growing body of research has linked gambling with a variety of negative outcomes. Some of these include physical health problems, psychological distress, and social problems. Despite these effects, only one in ten people who have a gambling disorder seek help. Some may even deny that they have a problem and continue to gamble.

Research into the impacts of gambling on individuals, families, and communities is best conducted using a longitudinal design. This allows researchers to identify factors that moderate or exacerbate gambling participation and thus infer causality. However, there are many barriers to conducting longitudinal studies, including the high cost of long-term follow-up and the challenge of retaining research teams over a long period of time.

An important finding of the review was that there were three levels of harm experienced from engagement with gambling: general, escalating and legacy. This was a helpful way of understanding the breadth and impact of harms from gambling, and aligned with existing theories.

General harms include those that result from the direct engagement with gambling, such as financial harm or loss of control over spending. In the context of the review, these included an individual’s inability to make a decision about whether or not to gamble; the use of credit cards and other forms of debt to fund gambling; or the use of surplus income or discretionary funds to purchase gambling products over other items.

escalating harms include those that occur when the level of gambling escalates and can no longer be controlled by the person; these may also include a need to lie to friends or therapists in order to conceal the extent of involvement; and the misuse of legal or illegal means, such as theft, fraud or embezzlement, in order to fund gambling. The third category, legacy harms, includes those that persist after a person has ended their engagement with gambling, and can affect the individual, their family, or the broader community.

When someone has a gambling problem, it’s important to seek help for co-occurring conditions, such as depression or anxiety. It’s also important to establish boundaries in managing money, and to find other ways to have fun. Support groups can be helpful, as can marriage, career and credit counseling. A therapist can help you understand the nature of gambling addiction and explore options for recovery. They can help you think about how to cope with your loved ones’ gambling urges, and how to set healthy boundaries for yourself.