The researchers conducted a scoping review of more than 80 studies addressing gambling harm experienced by affected others: family members, partners, friends, and colleagues of individuals with gambling problems.
The review explored the prevalence of affected others, their characteristics, experiences of harm, coping strategies and potential interventions.
Prevalence of affected others
Estimates of the proportion of the general adult population that are affected by another person’s gambling varied between 2–19 per cent, depending on the definition of affected others, the rigor of measurement, and the measurement timeframe.
The gambling problem of one individual was found to have direct negative effects on at least six others, and low-risk and moderate-risk gamblers affected one and three others respectively. The review found growing evidence that gambling harm is not limited to intimate partners, but also affects family members and friends.
Socio-demographic characteristics of affected others
The review found mixed findings in relation to socio-demographic characteristics, but single studies supported an association between living in a city, being a male immigrant, and living on social welfare.
Harms experienced by affected others
While intimate partners consistently report a range of consequences, including emotional distress, mood disorders, suicidality, physical health problems, parenting problems, and social isolation, harms extended beyond this group.
Overall, the quality of life of people who report that they have been adversely affected by someone else’s gambling decreased by 10–28 per cent, and these decreases appeared to vary based on the severity of the gambling problem.
Coping strategies employed by affected others
Most affected others attempted a range of coping strategies which could be grouped into two main goals: to influence the gambling behaviour, and to increase the wellbeing of the partner, couple, and family.
Common strategies included non-professional or informal support from partners, other family members and friends, financial strategies, support groups and online services.
Interventions for affected others
Affected others only make up 15–26 per cent of people seeking support from gambling treatment services, and there was a lack of awareness of support services among this group.
Affected others reported a range of motivations for help-seeking, including concerns the gambling could become a major problem, negative emotions, and problems maintaining normal daily activities, but many cited barriers to gaining support.
Affected other interventions (including CRAFT, 5-Step Method, and Coping Skills Training) and couple interventions (including Congruence Couple Therapy, Behavioural Couples Therapy, and Integrative Couple Treatment) have generally displayed good feasibility and acceptability, as well as some promising outcomes. However, most have only been trialled in one study, and have not yet been subjected to rigorous evaluation.
Dowling, N. A., Hawker, C. O., Merkouris, S. S., Rodda, S. N., and Hodgins, D. C. 2022, Addressing gambling harm to affected others: a scoping review, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne.