Lessons for the development of initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with problem gambling


There is no doubt that people who experience problems with gambling also experience significant stigma associated with these experiences [Thomas & Lewis 2015; Carroll et al. 2013]. Research indicates that members of the community hold stigmatising attitudes towards people who develop problems with gambling [Arbour-Nicitopoulos et al. 2010; Horch & Hodgins 2008], and that stigma may have a major negative impact on the ability of gamblers to seek help [Evans & Delfabbro 2005; Pulford et al. 2009; Suurvali et al. 2009; Clarke et al. 2007; Cooper 2004]. While community campaigns in gambling have traditionally focused on providing information to encourage individuals to seek help, we are unaware of any evidence to suggest that these campaigns may be working effectively to reduce gambling stigma, and in some cases may have unintended negative consequences for those experiencing harms with gambling [Thomas et al. 2012].

What is less clear from the research are the factors that may be leading to stigmatising attitudes towards gamblers. Research in other areas of addictions suggest that one of the main causes of stigma is that individuals perceive that addiction is a condition associated with personal responsibility and control, and that individuals are personally to blame for their condition [Pescosolido et al. 2010]. Similarly in gambling, some researchers have argued that personal responsibility frameworks (from governments, the gambling industry and media) may be contributing both to negative public perceptions of ‘problem gamblers’, and gamblers’ own perceptions of themselves [Carroll et al. 2013; Miller et al. 2014; Miller et al. 2015].

It has been proposed that stigma can be understood as a combination of problems of knowledge (ignorance), attitudes (prejudice), and behaviour (discrimination). Understanding the broader drivers of gambling stigma, and the range of initiatives that have been undertaken in other areas of health to reduce stigma, will help to address the urgent need for research into the ‘complex causes and consequences of stigma and the most effective way to address and reduce the stigma associated with problem gambling’ [Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform 2012].

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