How Gambling Affects Others

Whether buying a lotto ticket or placing bets on sports or pokie machines, gambling is a risky activity that has the potential to cause harm. Many gamblers think they have a high chance of winning and this illusion may motivate them to keep playing, even when they are losing money.

People are biologically programmed to seek rewards. When a person receives a reward, the brain sends chemical messages to the body which stimulate positive feelings. Gambling stimulates the reward center of the brain and is a common way to experience these feelings, but it is not a sustainable activity for many people. People with problem gambling are more likely to suffer from other mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to experience financial hardship, homelessness and deteriorating personal relationships.

It’s estimated that one pathological gambler affects seven other people – family members, friends, coworkers, and more. Problem gambling has been linked to an increased risk of incarceration, suicide and substance use disorder. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction so you can get help if needed.

Research on gambling impacts has been conducted at the individual, interpersonal, and community/society levels (Fig 1). Individual-level research has focused on how gamblers perceive their own negative outcomes and how they try to mitigate them. Interpersonal and community/society-level research has focused on the financial, labor, and health and well-being costs associated with gambling as well as the impact of gamblers’ debt and financial strain on significant others.

Humans want to feel in control and the unpredictable nature of gambling can frustrate them. This can lead to the belief that they can gain some control by establishing routines such as throwing dice in a certain manner or wearing an item of clothing that is considered lucky. The truth is that the chances of winning or losing remain unchanged with each new event. For example, flipping a coin can be heads 7 times in a row, but that doesn’t increase the probability of a heads next time around.

Longitudinal studies are necessary to identify and understand the factors that contribute to a gambler’s gambling behavior. These studies can help inform public policies and support gambling prevention initiatives. However, longitudinal research is challenging due to logistical barriers. It is difficult to maintain a research team over a multiyear period; sample attrition can result in changes in reported behaviors and/or responses to treatment; and aging and period effects can confound the results.

It’s also important to remember that gambling is not a profitable way to make money, and it should be budgeted as an expense. If you are thinking of trying to quit gambling, it’s helpful to start with a fixed amount of money that you can comfortably lose. You can find a counselor online or at a local community resource who can offer advice and support in your journey to recovery. Alternatively, you can use the world’s largest therapy service to be matched with a licensed, vetted, professional counselor who can provide support and guidance.