Gambling Related Harms: Physical Harms

Gambling is a popular pastime in Nigeria, with many people enjoying the thrill of placing bets on sporting events, casino games and other forms of gambling. A recent study of the Nigerian general population found that 36% of adult respondents had gambled and 53% of these people were daily gamblers. While some people gamble responsibly and within their means, others struggle with addiction and the negative consequences that come with it. The primary focus of gambling related harms tends to be on the psychological and social impacts, there are physical harms that can arise as well. Physical harms simply focuses on the impact of problem gambling on the individual’s health and well-being. 

Excessive gambling can lead to chronic stress, which can have a negative impact on the overall physical health. A study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that people who gamble frequently tend to have higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which are both hormones associated with excitement and stress. This explains why stress-related issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches and insomnia are commonly associated with gambling addiction. . Late-night gambling sessions or anxiety related to financial losses can lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation. This can have detrimental effects on physical well-being, including impaired cognitive function, weakened immune system, and increased risk of accidents.

A study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that people with a history of gambling are more likely to also have a substance abuse problem. Some individuals may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress, anxiety, or depression associated with gambling problems. Substance abuse can have severe physical consequences, including damage to the internal organs like the liver, heart and brain. It can also lead to respiratory problems such as lung disease and chronic bronchitis. This suggests that there is a strong relationship between substance abuse and problem gambling, and that it is important to address both issues when seeking treatment for addiction.

In the words of Dr. James Levine, ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Research has shown that individuals who struggle with problem gambling tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle. This is likely due to the fact that gambling can be an isolating activity, and individuals may spend long periods of time sitting and playing games. The World Health Organization reported that physical inactivity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Lack of physical activity can contribute to weight gain, obesity, muscular problems and other related health issues. Additionally, it is important to note that problem gambling can lead to financial difficulties which may limit an individual’s ability to participate in physical activities.

Furthermore, gambling can be a time-consuming activity, which may lead to neglect of meal planning and preparation. This can result in a diet that is high in processed and convenience foods which can be low in nutrients and high in calories. Individuals with gambling addiction may experience high levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to overeating or undereating, thereby causing food insecurity or malnutrition as the case may be. Similarly, when consumed by gambling, individuals may also neglect basic self-care practices including personal hygiene. Poor hygiene habits can lead to various physical health problems such as skin infection, dental issues and an overall decline in wellbeing.

The uncertainty of gambling itself can be likened to fear of the unknown. This is because gambling is a game of chance; wins or losses are not always successfully predicted. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that gambling-related cues can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, which can create a sense of reward and pleasure. As a result, spending excessive time gambling can lead to physical exhaustion and chronic fatigue. Lack of rest and recovery can weaken the immune system and make individuals more susceptible to illnesses and diseases.

Having examined the common physical health problem associated with problem gambling, it is pertinent to note that there are several mediums of recovery. In order for a problem to be dealt with effectively, it must be addressed from the roots, otherwise it will keep springing up and wreaking havoc. The Government, Gaming Regulators and Operators have a vital role to play in tackling the issue of physical harms in relation to problem gambling. Particularly, the KYC procedures should be enforced in order to identify and deactivate the account of persons that might have addiction to gambling thereby promoting public health and reducing the risk of gambling harms. A recent case which Gamble Alert handled was the deactivation of two different betting account of problem gambler in Nigeria.

Support groups like Gamble Alert play active role in ensuring recovery from problem gambling and its physical harms. Gamble Alert, a not for profit organization, commenced operation in 2021 as the foremost organization fostering responsible gambling in Nigeria. In leading the campaign for responsible gambling, Gamble Alert seeks to protect punters and minimize risks to the vulnerable in the society and provide treatment support for persons experiencing gambling harm, addicted gamblers and their significant others. Gamble Alert provides individuals with problem gambling a supportive community and a safe space to share their experiences. Gamble Alert consists of a Team of Professionals and Experts that make available counseling, therapy and medication in order to treat physical health issues related to problem gambling. 

In conclusion, the impact of problem gambling to the physical health should not be undermined as it does not only affect the individual, it affects their friends and families, financially and mentally. The Government and Gaming Regulators should enforce laws and policies that ensure that gaming operators put public health into consideration amidst all their activities and operations. Gambling addiction has serious physical health consequences, hence, it is important to seek professional help from addiction counsellors, therapists and support groups like Gamble Alert for proper treatment and smooth recovery process.

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