The Dangers of Gambling

Whether it’s buying lottery tickets, playing scratch-offs or betting on horse races or sports events, gambling involves risking something of value (money, goods, or services) in an attempt to predict the outcome of a game of chance. This activity takes place in a variety of social contexts and varies from the gambling on low-value scratchcards by people who have little to no income, to high stakes casino betting by wealthy people seeking profit or entertainment. Although legal in many countries, gambling is not generally considered to be a ‘morally acceptable’ pursuit and can cause significant problems for individuals.

Despite the widespread popular perception that gambling is a fun, harmless pastime that can provide an adrenaline rush and a feeling of control, it’s actually a high-risk, low-reward entertainment choice. People can easily get caught up in the excitement of winning and lose sight of the fact that the odds are always against them, and money lost is not recouped. This is known as chasing losses and it can lead to escalating bets, which can quickly lead to financial ruin.

While there is a wealth of research that explores the psychological and economic impacts of gambling, there is a lack of exploration into how societal structures shape gambling behaviour. A social practice theory approach to harm reduction may offer a valuable alternative and allow us to understand how social relationships, power and agency influence gambling. Using this lens, we can develop policy restrictions on the spaces and places where gambling occurs as well as influence discourses and public campaigns that shape beliefs and attitudes around the acceptability of gambling.

Some people gamble as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings or emotions, like boredom, stress, depression, anxiety or grief. Others do it as a way to unwind or socialize with friends and family. Some people even gamble as a means to avoid thinking or worrying about their finances. In all of these cases, there are healthier and safer ways to relieve these emotions, which can include exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or trying relaxation techniques.

It is also important to never gamble with money you need to pay bills or rent. Gambling can also take away from other healthy activities, such as spending time with family and friends, working on a hobby or even going to the movies. Finally, it is essential to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and to stop when you reach your time or dollar limits. If you’re having trouble controlling your gambling, consider talking to a mental health professional. CU Boulder students, staff and faculty can access online counseling and psychiatry through AcademicLiveCare, which offers convenient, confidential and affordable care. To learn more about this service and how it can help you, visit the CUCRC website or call to schedule a Let’s Talk session with one of our clinicians. If you are concerned about someone’s gambling behavior, contact the Gambling Clinic.