The Effects of Gambling

Gambling is an activity in which a person wagers something of value on an event that is primarily based on chance. It has existed in virtually every culture since prerecorded history and is embedded in local customs and rites of passage. Generally, people gamble for fun or to win money. They may also use gambling to meet a variety of other needs such as escaping boredom or stress, or for social reasons. Some people who have difficulty controlling their gambling have underlying psychological issues such as an underactive brain reward system, impulsivity or a poor understanding of random events. In addition, the cultural context in which they live may influence their beliefs and values about gambling and what constitutes a problem.

When people gamble, their brain produces dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. It’s the same response that occurs when a person engages in risky behaviour, such as riding a roller coaster or attempting to shoot a basketball into a basket. The dopamine release encourages people to try to replicate positive events and overcome the pain of negative ones. But with problem gambling, the reward pathway becomes skewed and the behaviour becomes more like an addiction than a form of entertainment. Problem gamblers often think they can control their gambling, but in reality, they have no control over the situation. Eventually, they lose control of their financial future and find themselves buried in debts that they cannot pay. In the long term, this leads to even more stress and depression.

There are four main reasons why people gamble: for social reasons – because they are part of a group or it is what you do at a party; for financial reasons – because you enjoy thinking about the potential winnings and how you would spend your prize money; to escape from boredom or stress – because it’s a distraction and provides a temporary relief, and to gain a sense of excitement – because of the thrill of betting and the possibility of winning big. People who have trouble controlling their gambling tend to focus on the financial aspects of the activity, and may neglect other personal or social concerns.

Regardless of the reason, most people who gamble do so responsibly. However, some people become addicted to the activity and are at risk of harming themselves or others. The impact of gambling extends beyond the individual gambler, and can affect their families, friends, work colleagues and community/society as a whole. Various methodological challenges exist in evaluating the impacts of gambling, particularly in terms of the social/community and interpersonal impacts, as these are difficult to measure.

There is growing interest in measuring the impacts of gambling on society, especially in relation to health and well-being. The research to date has focused mainly on the financial and labour impacts, while the social/community and interpersonal impacts have received less attention. The latter are largely non-monetary, making them more challenging to measure and thus harder to incorporate into calculations.