The Hidden Harms of Gambling

Gambling is a wager on an activity that involves risk and is based on chance in the hope of winning. It has existed in virtually every society since prerecorded history, and it has been incorporated into local customs and rites of passage throughout the ages. It is a common social activity that has both pro- and anti-gambling movements. Pro-gambling advocates promote it as a way to boost tax revenues and provide jobs, while anti-gambling activists point to its harmful psychological and social effects.

Some people gamble for financial reasons, others do it to make social interactions more enjoyable, and others simply enjoy thinking about what they would do if they won the lottery. However, a small proportion of people have a problem with gambling that reaches the level of addiction. The most severe cases are categorized as gambling disorder, which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent recurrent pattern of bet-taking that causes significant distress or impairment.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, gambling is a dangerous habit that can cause serious harm to the person who engages in it and their family members, friends, work performance and social life. Those with a gambling problem often have difficulty recognising the symptoms and may be reluctant to seek help for it. They may lie to their families, therapists and others about the extent of their gambling, be irresponsible with money and commit illegal acts to fund their gambling. They can also lose their jobs, homes and other possessions as a result of gambling.

A lot of the harms associated with gambling are hidden and underreported, which is why it is important to conduct impact studies on this subject. These studies allow researchers and policymakers to compare different types of gambling policies and determine which have the most positive and negative impacts. They can also help policymakers weigh up the benefits and costs of different gambling options [36].

Despite these risks, many people are not aware of how harmful gambling can be, especially when it is an ongoing, recurrent and excessive activity. Even though most people who gamble do not experience problems, it is estimated that a large percentage of the population will develop a gambling disorder in their lifetime. This is due to a variety of factors including genetics and brain structure. For instance, those with a genetically underactive reward system are at higher risk of developing gambling disorder. They also tend to be more impulsive and less able to control their impulses. Other factors include culture, which can shape the values of a particular group and influence the perception of what constitutes a problem. As a result, it is often difficult for people in communities where gambling is a popular pastime to recognize that they have a problem.