Whether it’s buying lotto tickets, betting on sports events or playing the pokies, many people gamble at some point in their lives. But if gambling becomes a problem, it can cause serious harm to your health, relationships and finances. If you have a problem with gambling, it can help to get support and treatment.
There are different ways of assessing harm related to gambling. The most common approach is to identify the types of harm and the breadth of harms experienced by the person who gambles, their families/friends and the broader community.
Harm minimisation is an important goal and can be achieved through the implementation of a range of strategies, including treatment programs and community-based support services. The concept of harm minimisation also includes an emphasis on the prevention of new problems, and the identification and management of comorbid conditions associated with gambling.
A broad definition of harm has been developed to include emotional, psychological and social harms in addition to financial damage. It also considers the impact of gambling on communities, extending beyond those who gamble to include those who work in gambling-related industries and those who access gambling-related services.
The first level of harm relates to the erosion of savings and financial resources, which is often accompanied by a reduction in the capacity to spend on non-essential items such as leisure activities, family outings, sporting or cultural pursuits and luxury goods such as electronic equipment. These purchases are largely unwise and irrational, due to the influence of an automaticity process, and therefore harmful to both the person who gambles and affected others.
Another level of harm relates to the loss of discretionary income, which is a consequence of prioritising the purchase of gambling products over other items that could be bought from the person’s surplus income or financial resources. This is a rational purchasing choice and is not a problem in itself; however, this is often influenced by an automaticity process.
There are a number of ways to overcome problems caused by gambling, which can be as simple as finding other ways to self-soothe unpleasant feelings or relieve boredom. These might include exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up new hobbies or practicing relaxation techniques. It is also helpful to strengthen your support network, and seek out therapy and peer support. It may also be beneficial to attend a gambling-specific family group such as Gam-Anon.
If you’re dealing with a loved one who has a gambling problem, it’s important to set boundaries in managing money. You can do this by limiting access to credit cards, making them in someone else’s name and closing online gambling accounts. It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of cash you keep on hand, so you can’t be tempted to gamble. Seek financial counseling if needed to establish better money management skills. If your financial situation is dire, you can also apply for a debt consolidation loan or bankruptcy.