Gambling is a form of risk-taking that involves placing an amount of money or other assets at stake in the hope of winning a prize. It is a popular pastime, and there are many different ways to gamble, including lotteries, scratchcards, casino games, sports betting and the pokies. While some people do not have a problem with gambling, others struggle with this activity and can find it hard to control their urges. This can lead to a serious financial, family and personal crisis. It is also difficult to recognise when gambling has become a problem as people often hide their activity from others.
Research on gambling-related harm is complex and there are competing priorities and interests amongst researchers and treatment providers. A common point of confusion is the definition of harm which is a key factor in the development of effective prevention and intervention strategies.
In the past, the psychiatric community largely considered pathological gambling a form of impulse control disorder, a vaguely defined category that at that time included such disorders as kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (burning) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). However, in the 1980s, when the psychiatric community revised its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it moved pathological gambling to the chapter on addictions.
The revised definition of gambling related harm is broadened to include any adverse outcome from the act of gambling, whether or not it meets the diagnostic criteria for problem gambling. This approach allows for the inclusion of harms experienced at any point in the gambling journey and also reflects the concept of harm as a socially constructed and subjective construct.
Harm is a complex phenomenon and is often influenced by other comorbidities such as depression, substance misuse, and eating disorders. In addition, it can be difficult to separate the impact of gambling from its influence on other aspects of a person’s life.
Research has shown that psychological therapies such as cognitive-behaviour therapy are an effective treatment for pathological gambling. These therapies help people change their thinking patterns and confront irrational beliefs, such as the idea that a string of losses will be followed by a win. They can also help people learn to stop their gambling when they have reached their loss threshold.
Another important research method for gambling-related harm is longitudinal studies which follow a group of people over time. This allows researchers to investigate the onset, maintenance and exacerbatement of problematic behaviour. It can also identify factors that moderate and exacerbate problem gambling and help to clarify the causal mechanisms between these factors and adverse outcomes.
Longitudinal data also enable researchers to use multivariable regression models to test for the association between specific variables and gambling-related harm. This is especially useful when exploring complex interactions between various comorbidities, such as depression and substance misuse. These models can be more precise and cost-efficient than using a single-variable model. Longitudinal research is particularly suitable for examining gambling-related harms because it enables comparison between groups of individuals over time, which is not possible with cross-sectional data.