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The invisible addiction - Gambling Disorder

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Would you know if a family member, friend, or employee was suffering from gambling disorder? How do you recognise it? Unlike alcohol or drug addiction where individuals show associated visual signs of their addiction those suffering from gambling disorder are less visible and one might say generally invisible. So much so that in those cases where individuals complete suicide family members say they had no idea their husband, wife, son, or daughter was suffering from gambling disorder.

So being the invisible addiction, this poses a number of challenges to those family members or employers who want to help.

I want to look at this from an employer's perspective and with the assumption that the employer is truly interested in balancing the success of the organisation with the well-being of their staff.

Firstly though, we need to consider what impact the addiction has on one's mental state, especially when at the height of the addiction. To answer this I have to depend on the information that has been shared with me during general conversations with those recovering from the disorder. Also, as an affected other, I can look back on my son's own situation.

They have explained it in a variety of ways but all imply that the only thing constantly on their mind was gambling or gambling-related for example looking for loans to fund their next bet and that they found it very difficult to concentrate on anything else. So much so, that their general performance and health declined.

If you then link this to sleep deprivation either caused by playing online games through the night or lying in bed at night worrying about the consequences of their disorder, then in my own words it would suggest that they were in a mentally fragile state where they were more prone to making human errors.

So, what might this mean to a business?


If your business requires your employees to perform tasks that require high levels of concentration then could this be increasing product or service defects?

In the worst-case scenario, this could result in an incident or accident leading to injury or fatality.


Could your business brand be damaged as a result of the above risks? What damage would this do to your company image and to the well-being of your employees?


If your employees are not focusing on the task required to be delivered then it is likely their productivity will be less.

If they are using technology as part of their work activities could they in fact be spending less time working and some of their work time gambling online?

With mobile phones being one of the main modes for doing work and also for gambling online how would you know?

Staff Well-Being:

If you are committed to staff well-being do your policies and culture enable and encourage your staff to feel safe enough to discuss their disorder. If not you may find your sickness levels being increased and your risks increasing.

Incident/Accident Reporting and Investigating Procedures:

Do these look at the human factor and if they do, how do they assess the individual's mental health well-being at the time.

In my view, the current level of harm from gambling disorder is underestimated as procedures do not look for this area of risk.

For alcohol and drug-related accidents/incidents, taking a blood sample enables you to assess if these addictions are a factor. With gambling disorder, there is no such test.

The aim of this post is to help employers to be more aware of this disorder and to think about how they respond

appropriately to it.

With online gambling products now offering a "casino in your pocket" 24/7; a high proportion of the population who like to gamble and with the National Audit Office in 2019 reporting that in the UK there are around 55,000 aged 11 to 16 year old problem gamblers with a further 85,000 assessed to be at risk, then this is something which is likely to be an ongoing issue which may grow further with time. So employers need a sustainable approach to respond to this.

Whereas an employer can introduce random blood sampling to monitor alcohol or drug intake to mitigate this risk, this cannot be done for gambling.

The World Health Organisation states that " The gambling related burden of harm appears to be of a similar magnitude to major depressive disorder and alcohol misuse and dependence. It is substantially higher than harm attributed to drug dependence disorder".

Interestingly, many of those I have met in recovery from the disorder are becoming or have become more successful in their employment life. This suggests to me that employers can get a win: win by doing the right thing.

I am aware that by writing this post some employers could just try to identify and dismiss those with gambling disorder from the organisation. The stigma around gambling often portrays individuals as selfish and weak. This is not true. This fails to recognise that this disorder needs treatment and support like any other. Also, such an approach will fail to reduce organisational risk. In fact in my opinion it will increase it.

I am, however, hopeful that there are more employers who truly care about their staff's well-being. Recognising that they are key to their success and by looking after them when they need help, they in return will do their best for their employer.

If you would like to discuss gambling disorder further with people who have lived experience, then please contact Gambling Harm UK (GHUK).


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