Understanding Gambling: Impacts and Social Networks Across the Lifecourse

This research used longitudinal, qualitative methods to explore the temporal and social dynamics of gambling behaviour. It built upon an earlier study: Situating Problem Gambling: the social context of gambling careers [ESRC RES 164-125-006], and followed a cohort of gamblers between 2006-11. It utilised in depth qualitative methods to explore continuity and change among this group, examining the ways that social, cultural and environmental factors influenced the development of, and recovery from, gambling problems. It explored the impacts of gambling beyond individual players themselves, by interviewing members of their wider social networks, including families, friends and colleagues.

The longitudinal and social focus of the project expanded the ‘frame’ for understanding gambling, allowing deeper understanding of the temporal and social aspects of behaviour. Against models that have tended to represent gambling as a rather static condition, our respondents’ behaviour was dynamic and changed over time. We represented this fluidity through the conceptual development of the idea of ‘trajectories of behaviour’, with trajectories of ‘progression’, ‘reduction’, ‘consistency’ and ‘non-linearity’ describing behaviour that was continually moving towards, and away from, problems in ways that were multidirectional and fluid. As well as extending over players’ lives, we found that the impacts of gambling also cascade through their social networks in ways that affect the emotional and financial wellbeing of those who are closest to them. At the same time however, we also found that social networks themselves impacted on gambling in various ways, as well as being affected by them.

Overall, the study provides a nuanced understanding of gambling through a series of rich narrative accounts that highlight the ways it is embedded in social and temporal relationships, and the ways it is lived and understood by players.


National Centre for Social Research


June 2006 - 2013


Economic and Social Research Council and the Responsible Gambling Trust (314,000)


Briefing Paper: Understanding Gambling: Impacts and Social Networks Across the Lifecourse - read highlights from the second phase of the study

Reith, G and Dobbie, F (2011) ‘Beginning gambling: the role of social networks and environment’. Addiction Research and Theory 19 (4). pp 483-493

Reith, G., and Dobbie, F. (2012) ‘Lost in the game: narratives of addiction and identity in recovery from problem gambling’. Addiction Research and Theory, 20 (6). pp. 511-521

Reith, G., and Dobbie, F. (2013) ‘Gambling careers: a longitudinal qualitative study of gambling behaviour’. Addiction Research and Theory 21 (5). pp. 376-390

Reith, G and Dobbie, F (2013) ‘ The Socio-Temporal Dynamics of Gambling: Narratives of Change over Time’. In R. Cassidy, C. Loussourn and A.Pisac (eds) Qualitative Research in Gambling: Exploring the Production and Consumption of Risk. London: Routledge

Reith, G (2012) ‘Beyond addiction and compulsion: the continuing role of environment in the case of pathological gambling’ Addiction. 107 (10) pp 1736-1737

Publications on Enlighten: http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/view/author/5307.html