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Qualitative follow-up interviews with participants from the Gambling Survey Experimental Phase

We have refined new survey questions aimed at collecting better data on the experience of gambling-related harms in the upcoming Gambling Survey for Great Britain.

Interrelation of different harms due to gambling

The complexity of how gambling-related harms manifest emerged as a theme throughout the interviews. The experiences described were diverse and influenced by the specific circumstances of participants’ lives. For some, harms appeared to occur simultaneously with no clear sequence, while others felt that one harm led clearly to another harm or multiple harms.

Another experience was harms continuously feeding into one another in a cyclical way, but participants were not always able to discern the factors triggering this cycle. One similarity that emerged across the interviews was that participants found it difficult to disentangle the harms they had experienced as a result of their own or someone else’s gambling. Participants were not always able to unpick the ways that the negative impacts they had experienced were connected and sometimes struggled to understand or explain how different harms interacted with each other.

This section explores some of the ways that the different gambling-related harms were connected in participants’ lived experience. Illustrative examples are included to show how these harms were experienced in different contexts and how different types of harm (such as financial, social and wellbeing harms) interact.

Harms relating to participants’ own gambling

One harm leading to other harm(s)

Some participants felt that one harm related to their own gambling clearly led to another harm. For example, one participant described how they were financing their gambling from their savings, and once they had depleted their savings they then began to cut back on their everyday spending. In this instance, the financial loss from gambling contributed to a depletion of savings, which then directly led to an additional financial impact on their daily spending.

Participants also described ways in which financial harms led to relationship or health harms, usually triggered by a financial loss resulting from their gambling activity. When thinking through the negative impacts they had experienced as a result of their own gambling, some participants identified their response to losing money as the starting point for other types of harms.

For some, this was experienced as a clear sequence. The negative financial impact resulting from gambling loses led participants to try to reduce their spending in other areas which then had knock-on effects on other areas of their life. For example, participants spent less money on socialising and going out with their partner or friends in the wake of a gambling loss, which had an impact on their social life and their relationships. At times this caused arguments between friends or feelings of “frustration” expressed by the partners of these participants.

The reach of these sequences of events was varied. Some participants described two or three negative things happening a few months apart with no further negative impacts identified after this point. For others, the impacts of their gambling compounded until almost every aspect of their life had been affected due to the initial financial loss resulting from their gambling.

Illustration of how a sequence of harms resulting from the financial impact of gambling was experienced.

One participant explained how their gambling led to significant financial losses, resulting in their bills going unpaid. They initially used their overdraft to pay for these expenses, but once they had exhausted their overdraft they used credit cards. Once their credit cards were maxed out they ordered new ones before finally borrowing money from friends. After these efforts were not sufficient to cover their expenses, the participant turned to theft. This had wide-reaching consequences, resulting in a criminal conviction and the breakdown of their marriage.

“All that's left is theft, and once that's gone, then that's it. You're in the gutter. It's a monster that just keeps eating and eating and eating, and you can't get away from it.”

Participant who experienced harm related to their own gambling.

Usually, the financial loss was viewed as the trigger for these sequences of negative impacts. However, there were some exceptions where a sequence of events resulting from an individual’s gambling led to them experiencing harm unrelated to losing money. For example, one participant described how they would spend the night gambling at the casino, which would make it difficult for them to get up for work the next day and impact their performance at work.

“Even when I hadn't lost money, [...] it was affecting the next day because of the lack of sleep…[...] Probably, it also combined with drink and everything, and you're supposed to go to work at nine o'clock, which is like two hours sleep. All this junk with the alcohol and gambling, and you're trying to think about work. It takes a bit of time to settle back into work.”

Male participant aged over 55 years old who experienced harm related to their own gambling.

Circular relationship of harms

While impacts from gambling were described as a sequence of events in some cases, other participants pointed to how the negative impacts of their gambling were experienced as a cycle. For example, some participants experienced a cycle of losing money, trying to hide the extent of their gambling losses and conflict with their partner. This led to them taking further effort to hide their gambling in order to reduce the likelihood of this conflict, which would ultimately lead to worse strain on their relationships if the extent of their dishonesty was found out.

“Probably at the same time, I was spending more, so I was lying more. […] Yes, it's the fact that I've been lying, then she'd [partner] be mad at the fact that I was lying as well, and it got worse.”

Male participant aged 35 to 54 years old, who experienced harm related to their own gambling.

Illustration of how gambling activity can be exacerbated as part of a cycle of gambling harms.

Some participants described a cycle whereby gambling-related harms led to increased gambling activity, and subsequently increased harms. One participant explained how they felt embarrassed when they lost money from betting. To avoid being perceived by their friends as having been irresponsible with their money, they concealed the extent of their gambling. They believed this then led to the frequency of their gambling increasing as there was no one to question their behaviour. This created a cycle of dishonestly feeding into increased gambling losses and/or financial harm, resulting in more dishonesty. The participant felt that if their friends had been aware of their gambling they would have supported them to cut down, thereby reducing the financial harm they experienced as a result of their gambling.

“I didn't have any accountability structure outside of myself…there was no opportunity for anyone to say, to tell me that I was being frivolous and daft and that I needed to reign it in because they weren't aware of it.”

Participant who experienced harm relating to their own gambling.

Harms taking place simultaneously

Other participants described their experiences of gambling-related harms as neither a sequence nor a cycle, but instead explained how these harms were experienced simultaneously. It was particularly difficult for these participants to unpick or separate the impacts of different types of gambling harms; they experienced multiple harms at the same time, combining to have a significant and harmful impact on their life.

For example, gambling-related harms such as losing money, getting into debt and lying to friends and family were experienced by participants all at the same time, in addition to feelings of anxiety, relationship strain and underperformance at work (all resulting from gambling). Participants described a “general feeling of anxiety” or sadness related to their gambling which they felt was not the clear result of one harm but rather multiple simultaneous harms - “a mixture of everything”.

Impact of external factors

Gambling-related harms do not exist in a vacuum, separate to other experiences in people’s lives. Participants’ experiences of harm were impacted by and interrelated to external factors and in many cases, participants found it difficult to disentangle gambling-related harm from other harms.

For example, some participants experienced mental health problems, financial struggles, or relationship difficulty prior to them starting to gamble. When their mental health worsened, debts accumulated or relationships ultimately ended, they were sure their gambling had contributed to this but were unsure quite how much. Generally, it was felt that the more money was spent on gambling, the worse the subsequent impacts were – beyond this, participants were unsure about the exact ways in which their gambling activity was causing negative impacts in their life.

In some cases, sequences of harms could also be triggered by a non-gambling related event in the participant’s life. For example, one participant described how financial harms (and the subsequent impacts of these harms) were triggered by a reduction in income. While the participant’s gambling activity did not change during this time, the impact of this activity on their finances became greater and anxiety-inducing.

Relationships between harms relating to someone else’s gambling

Participants who had been impacted by someone else’s gambling experienced similar patterns of harms as those affected by their own gambling activity, describing a sequence of impacts or, alternatively, experiencing impacts simultaneously. Where a clear sequence of harms was described, this usually began when someone close to them lost money through gambling.

Often, the participants lent money to help the person close to them mitigate financial harms caused by gambling, such as being unable to pay their bills. As with the sequence of harms described (with relation to participants own gambling), these individuals experienced financial harms that then led into social impacts.

In some instances, participants were concealing the truth from those around them – hiding both the extent of their friend or family member’s financial loss and their own involvement in providing a loan. One participant described how they felt forced into dishonestly due to friends “telling them off” for supporting a family member’s gambling. Lending money to friends struggling with gambling also meant that participants had less money to spend on themselves, including on socialising with their friends.

Several emotional impacts also resulted from someone else losing money due to gambling. Participants who felt they needed to lie about the extent of someone else’s gambling felt “guilty” about concealing the truth in this way. Those who lent money felt angry and frustrated if this money was not paid back and resentment that their loved one prioritised spending money on gambling. This led to feelings of stress and worry, having a detrimental impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Participants described the sequence of impacts they experienced as feeling beyond their control as they were not able to directly impact the gambling activity.

The emotional impacts experienced by participants were made worse by other factors in participants’ lives. For example, some individuals were particularly worried by their loved one’s gambling when struggling with their own financial issues; they didn’t have enough money to help but would feel guilty if they did not offer financial assistance. This left them feeling as if they had no way of minimising the harms they experienced as a result of someone else’s gambling – regardless of the action they took, they would find themselves adversely affected, whether financially or emotionally.

“So, it is a sequence because when you haven't got money but you are going to help somebody, that is stressful because on one hand, you haven't got the money but then on the other hand, you want to help somebody as well at the same time.”

Male participant aged 35 to 54 years old, who experienced harm related to someone else’s gambling.

Illustration of the long-term impacts related to someone else’s gambling.

Harms experienced by participants as a result of the financial losses of a loved one could be far-reaching, with the impacts still being felt even after the gambling activity, or their proximity to it, had ceased. For example, harms experienced in childhood were then felt to follow participants into adulthood, leading to additional impacts throughout their lives. However, participants sometimes felt it was difficult to specify the way past impacts had led to long-term impacts in their lives.

One participant was affected by the gambling of a family member who had been gambling since before the participant was born. In the participant’s own mind this affected every aspect of their childhood, with knock-on impacts into adulthood. For example, the participant explained how as an adult they feel anxious about money despite being in a stable financial position. They believed this was due to growing up in an environment where money “seemed to disappear all the time”. However, they found it difficult to state the impact of gambling with certainty because they didn’t know what their life (and worries) would have been like had they grown up around people who did not gamble.

“I think it's quite hard to unpick it because if that is your reality, you don't realise how different your reality is to someone else's because someone else is having a completely different existence where there is no gambling.”

Participant who experienced harm related to someone else’s gambling.

Relationships between harms relating to participants’ own gambling and someone else’s gambling

Participants who had experienced harm as a result of both their own gambling activity and someone else’s gambling were asked whether these harms were connected to each other. There were limited examples of how these experiences of harm interrelated, and instead participants viewed the impacts as separate experiences.

One participant explained how they would worry about the financial impact of their friends gambling and this would result in them reducing their own gambling. In this way, experiencing harm (in this case, feeling anxiety and/or worry) because of someone else’s gambling led to a reduction in harms experienced as a result of their own gambling. There were no other examples of gambling harms being connected in this way beyond a broad sense that the impacts of different harms can build up over time to create a negative impact on one’s life, often comprising of a general sense of upset or stress.

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Qualitative GSGB Experimental Statistics Phase: Limitations and recommendations
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