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Investigating the public health impacts of gambling harms


A study led by NIHR-funded researchers investigating ways to reduce the impacts of gambling-related harms are today published in the Lancet.

Experts from the University of Sheffield examined existing evidence around potential interventions to reduce the risk of harm to individuals and communities as a result of gambling.

Findings from the review demonstrate that gambling related harm should be addressed in the same way harms from other risky behaviours such as alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking are tackled, researchers say.

Gambling related harm affects more than 300,000 people every year in the UK, often leading to significant financial and mental health problems. The regulatory, education and treatment services that have been successful in reducing the impact of smoking and harmful drinking have not been systematically developed and evaluated for gambling.

The study highlights how there is very little evidence of support interventions available to those people with gambling addiction problems, including those who are recovering from gambling addiction, but are in danger of relapsing.

The review identified the potential to put in place a wide range of policies to reduce harms at national and local government levels as well as through provision of services for those already experiencing problems.

Dr Lindsay Blank, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Gambling is a major cause of harm to individuals, their families and many communities in the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic is making it even more difficult for people who are at risk, or are already affected, by the impact on their mental health, relationships and finances. People are spending more time at home and in isolation, and are more likely to be experiencing economic and personal stress which will increase the risks from gambling activities.

She added: “People often understand addictions to substances and can be much more accepting of how those problems need to be addressed as public health issues, whereas gambling is not widely seen as a public health problem across society.

“For people who seek help, some gambling support services have made the transition to providing support online in response to the pandemic, but it’s difficult for them to reach everybody and it’s even more problematic for them to reach those people who have dropped out and had a relapse in their recovery. If we can change how gambling is perceived and start to view gambling related harm as a public health issue then we can do more to both prevent harmful gambling and help those who are already in need of support.”

Professor Brian Fergson, Director of the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme, which funded the review, said: “The impacts of gambling-related harm are an important public health issue, especially during the pandemic at a time of increased strain on mental health and finances for many vulnerable people.

“This NIHR-funded review plays a crucial part in identifying where more research is needed to take steps towards developing robust ways to help people affected by gambling harms."

Kamil Sterniczuk, whose relative was affected by gambling-related harm, said: “Pathological gambling can lead to social degradation, debt and crime. At the same time, we do not have well-established screening methods nor effective interventions to help those affected by gambling and their relatives. There is so much that needs to be done in this respect.”

The paper, Interventions to reduce the public health burden of gambling-related harms: a mapping review, is published in the journal Lancet Public Health.

The study was carried out by the PHR Programme’s Public Health Review Team.

Read more about the study in the NIHR Funding and Awards website.