The prevalence of exttreme gambling harms – identified as a psychiatric disorder, often referred to as addiction – is given by the Gambling Commission as 0.3% of the population. This is often taken – by the gambling industry, for instance – as an ‘official figure’, set in stone. However, a YouGov poll in 2020 set the figure at 2.7%. Meanwhile research continues to find improved ways of data gathering.
Whatever the figure, what has to be added to that is the on average number of ‘affected others’, those harmed by someone else’s severe gambling issues. The average number of people so affected is six making the number of people suffering severe gambling harms using the two figures above is between 1.8% and 16.2% of the population.
However, focusing only on extreme harms disguises the fact that health harms often occur along a spectrum. Alcohol consumption, for instance, may not receive a diagnosis of alcohol dependence syndome but can be seriously damaging to health and negarively affect people around the drinker. Also, with many risky health behaviours the midly dangerous often leads to moderately and extremly dangerous over time.
In a British Medical Journal of May 2019 the authors argue, in relation to gambling harms:
Harms from gambling affect health and wellbeing and, even at low risk levels, contribute to a loss of quality of life similar to the long term consequences of a moderate stroke, moderate alcohol use disorder, and urinary incontinence. These low level harms arguably contribute more to aggregate social costs than those from people gambling at problematic levels because of the greater population numbers experiencing them.
The impact of gambling behaviours below levels identified as extreme or severe, in other words, can and does bring significant reductions in wellbeing to self and others. The nature of this impact will vary across the thousands or millions of individual stories about ‘lower level’ gambling harms.