The Health Impacts of Gambling


Gambling is an activity that involves wagering something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. It’s important to remember that gambling is a form of entertainment and should always be treated as such. People gamble for a variety of reasons including the excitement of winning, socialising and escaping from worries or stress. However, for some people gambling can become a problem. If you are finding that you are betting more than you can afford to lose, borrowing money to fund your gambling or feeling anxious about your gambling, you may have a problem and need help.

There is a strong link between mental health problems and gambling. If you’re concerned about your own mental health, speak to your GP, visit the NHS website or call 999 in an emergency. There’s also a link between gambling and debt, which can lead to financial crisis and even homelessness. If you’re worried about your finances, speak to StepChange for free, confidential debt advice.

Problem gambling is a significant public health concern and has been linked to a range of negative outcomes, such as poor performance at work or school, relationship difficulties and financial ruin. People who are ill, depressed or experiencing an emotional crisis are particularly at risk of harmful gambling.

People who are unable to control their gambling often experience intense feelings of guilt and shame. This can cause them to hide their behaviour and lie to family and friends about how much they are betting. They may also feel a need to secretly bet against themselves or up their bets in an attempt to win back the money they’ve lost. In addition, many people who have a gambling problem experience suicidal thoughts or act on them.

The impacts of gambling can be categorized into personal, interpersonal and community/society levels. Personal and interpersonal level impacts affect individuals themselves and their immediate relationships, whereas community/society level impacts influence and concern others who are not gamblers themselves (see the image below).

Gambling is not seen as a major problem by government health-research agencies in the same way that smoking attacks the lungs and alcohol damages the liver. This is partly because problem gambling does not appear to damage physical health in the same way that these other substances do, and in part because of its high comorbidity with other psychiatric disorders. There is some evidence that physical activity can improve the mood of those who have a gambling disorder, and some research suggests that self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous can be helpful for people with this condition. However, a number of other factors can contribute to problem gambling: low socioeconomic status; depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder; and the presence of other addictions. These factors should be addressed in treatment plans for those with gambling disorders.