Latest GambleAware Study Finds Stigma a Key Barrier to Accessing Problem Gambling Support

According to GambleAware’s Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey 2022, stigma is a substantial barrier preventing adults from accessing help for gambling harm.

YouGov studied over 18,000 adults on behalf of GambleAware to explore the usage of and demand for support and treatment among people in Great Britain who gamble and those affected by another’s gambling.

The study also indicated that relapse rates during attempts to lessen or stop gambling are the highest for those experiencing significant harm.

Additionally, the research found a link between gambling exposure early in life and harm later on.

Nearly Half Experiencing Gambling Harm Feel Shame

The study found nearly half (48%) of people experiencing significant gambling harm felt “embarrassed or ashamed” much or all of the time.

These findings, the report said, were a strong theme in the qualitative interviews with some 30 participants. An overwhelming majority described feeling reluctant to discuss their gambling with family or friends.

Many had a long history of gambling, seeking support, relapsing, and severe impacts like debt, bankruptcy, or home loss.

As a result, many who gambled felt like they were on their “last chance,” particularly with romantic partners.

The report further highlights that, for many suffering from problems, the stigma around gambling and the resulting secrecy and embarrassment are barriers to reaching out for support. It said that shame can also negatively impact the mental health of many already at risk.

Among those classified as significant risk according to the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), 34% had not used advice, support, or treatment to reduce their gambling over the past 12 months. Of those not seeking help, 40% cited stigma as a barrier.

The PGSI is a standardized measure of gambling harm. The index uses nine behavioral questions to determine if a person who gambles is at risk for or suffering gambling harm. The higher the PGSI score, the higher the severity.

Specifically, a score of one or two indicates low-risk behavior, while a score between three and seven is considered moderate.

Meanwhile, someone with a PGSI score of eight or higher is significantly at risk for or already exhibiting a gambling problem.

Attempts to Curb Gambling Often End in Relapse

Notably, the GambleAware study also found many who gamble have tried to reduce or stop gambling over the past year.

In particular, three in five, or 59% of those at eight or higher on the PGSI, attempted to cut back their gambling behaviors.

However, many attempts resulted in a later return to gambling.

Relapse was highest among those with higher PGSI scores, for example, 87% of those with a PGSI of eight plus. That result dropped to 72% for those with a PGSI of three or higher and 64% for those with the lowest risk.

According to the study’s interviews, common causes of relapses include:

  • Financial circumstances,
  • Mental health issues,
  • Life events, and
  • Gambling promotions

Additionally, the responses illustrated how people who gamble are often their worst critics, internalizing shame and pushing away help.

Many respondents indicated society’s view of gambling addiction as less harmful than drugs or alcohol addictions contributes to the stigma.

Perceptions that gambling is a choice rather than an illness mean people expect those who gamble to have more control.

Participants felt there had been some progress in how gambling is talked about publicly. However, compared to campaigns around other addictive harms, they said there’s still a long way to go.

Advertising, some said, which normalizes gambling and can minimize potential harms, doesn’t help.

A 59-year-old man with a PGSI of 18 further explained:

Society has the correct attitude towards smoking tobacco. It is legal, heavily taxed and supports those smokers who ask for help, and yet it is not promoted or marketed which is also important to help prevent new smokers becoming addicted. We need to see legalisation, taxation and regulation with all forms of addiction, so that those with addictions can be supported and helped, rather than judged.

Stigma Changes Based on Gambling Type

Interestingly, the study also found levels of perceived stigma appeared to differ according to gambling type.

This perception led to many rationalizing their gambling as “good” or “bad” gambling.

Types of gambling considered good were sensible and strategic, like the lottery or bets on politics or sporting events. In contrast, bad referred to most other gambling types, particularly slots, and games associated with luck and ease.

One 44-year-old man (PGSI – 11) added:

They [slots, casinos, scratch cards] are games of luck rather than skill – there’s nothing you can do other than hope you get the right thing. Whereas with football, you can look at the form, the history, the players, and you can make an informed bet.

Ultimately, the study said, many tried to establish a level of gambling they could reconcile with, whether that was sticking to a particular gambling practice or an amount spent.

However, researchers noted that these boundaries often acted as a barrier to quitting entirely.

Another finding from the study that has received a larger share of media coverage is the link between early exposure to gambling and later gambling harms.

Researchers found that early exposure to gambling—via family members or TV advertising—can be associated with an increased risk of later gambling harm.

Almost two in three (64%) of those experiencing significant harm reported knowing someone who regularly gambled before they turned 18.

By comparison, only one in four (25%)  of adults who do not gamble reported knowing someone who wagered during their formative years.

Ending Stigma so People Get Needed Help is Key

As Great Britain’s leading independent charity providing gambling harm education, prevention, and treatment across Great Britain, GambleAware aims to protect citizens from gambling harm.

In addition to the annual survey administered by YouGov, GambleAware commissions the National Gambling Support Network (NGSN) and the National Gambling Helpline. NGSN provides confidential, free treatment to those experiencing problem gambling, while the helpline answers nearly 42,000 calls annually.

Upon release, Zoë Osmond, GambleAware’s CEO, noted the report’s essential findings and urged an end to gambling stigma:

As the lead commissioning charity in Great Britain, we are pleased to publish this year’s landmark Treatment and Support Survey. Gambling harms are a serious public health issue and can affect anyone, including an increasing amount of children and young people.

We are concerned about the normalization of gambling across society, with this year’s report clearly highlighting a potential link between early exposure and harms in later life, as well as a worry by parents who feel unable to shield their children from the plethora of advertising and marketing.

It is also important to end the stigma associated with gambling, which is acting as a key barrier to those wanting advice and support. We encourage people to come forward and open up the conversation about gambling to put an end to stigma and ensure people get the help they need.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, adventure, and hoppy beer.
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