Most people enjoy gambling in a responsible manner. But some develop an addiction to gambling, suffering social, emotional and financial devastation. Virtually anyone—men or women, young or old, and those from every religion, race and socio-economic background—is at risk for developing a gambling problem.
Here at OnlingGambling.co, we want you to have fun gambling while making sure you play responsibly at all times. On this page, you will find information to help you understand the signs of problem gambling. We’ll also provide you with resources where you can learn more about gambling addiction and where you can seek out assistance if you or someone you know has a problem with gaming.
What is Problem Gambling?
Problem gambling, which is also known as compulsive gambling, is the urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or the desire to stop playing. The most serious form of problem gambling is pathological gambling, which the American Psychiatric Association defines as “persistent and recurrent maladaptive behavior that disrupts personal, family, or vocational pursuits.”
It is estimated that about 220,000 Canadians have problematic gambling habits. That makes up about 1.1% of the 19.3 million Canadians who are believed to be active gamblers, and approximately 0.6% of Canadians overall.
Compulsive gambling can have severe consequences for individuals and families. Problem gamblers can experience the loss of relationships, damaged emotional or physical health, the loss of career or educational opportunities, and other forms of social, emotional and financial devastation.
In some cases, problem gamblers may resort to illegal acts to either support their gambling or pay off their gambling-related debts. Some compulsive gamblers end up in prison or psychiatric institutions, and they may even attempt or commit suicide.
Recognizing the Signs of Problem Gambling
There are many signs that may alert you to the fact that you or someone you know could be struggling with compulsive gambling. In particular, the following could be indications of a gambling problem:
- Increased frequency of gambling activities
- Increasing amounts of money being gambled
- Gambling for longer than originally planned
- Bragging about wins, but never talking about losses
- Pressuring others for money to help cover financial problems
- Lying about how money is being spent
- Escaping to alcohol, drugs, sleep, or other excesses
- Denying that there is a problem
Other signs of problem gambling can include frequent absences from work or home, withdrawing from family members, changes to personality, or diverting family funds for personal use.
While we may primarily look for these signs in adults, it is important to recognize that children – and young people more broadly – are at risk for problem gambling. In fact, some studies suggest that younger people suffer from greater levels of gambling addiction than older adults.
One state-run survey in the United States found that 66% of adolescents suggested that social casino game operations encouraged them to gamble. Similarly, an Ontario survey found that 31% of students in grades 7 to 12 reported participating in one or more gambling activities over the past year. Furthermore, 7% of those students in grades 9 to 12 had a low to moderate severity gambling problem, while 2% had a high severity gambling problem.
How to Seek Help for Compulsive Gambling
Recovery from gambling addiction is possible. There are many available treatment options for those who are suffering from compulsive gambling issues, regardless of their severity.
Regardless of where you live, GamblingTherapy.org is a global online service that offers free, practice advice and emotional support to those affected by problem gambling. There is also GamTalk, an online support site that can connect you with other people who have dealt with gambling issues in their lives.
In Canada, there are both national and provincial level support programmes to help. You can find a list of gambling support services in each province or territory at ResponsibleGambling.org. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) also offers help for addiction services, and can be reached by calling 416 535-8501, then selecting option 2.
Similarly, there are numerous treatment providers who are ready to help with problem gambling throughout the United States. Treatment programs at centres like Project Turnabout’s Vanguard Center for Compulsive Gambling in Granite Falls, Minnesota and Gambler’s Choice in Fargo, North Dakota can help those struggling with gambling issues. Americans can also reach out to Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step support program that holds meetings in communities throughout the USA and internationally.
In addition, we have collected resources and tools for healthcare professionals with an interest in problem gambling. We hope you can use these resources to aid in the treatment of compulsive gamblers.
Problem Gambling Success Stories
While dealing with compulsive gambling can seem daunting, there are many people who have successfully recovered. Here are a couple true stories from those who have received treatment for their gambling problems.
“About ten years ago, I was heavily into a gambling addiction. My life was quite chaotic in all areas: work stress, family stress, spiritual stress, financial, etc. No matter what I tried in order to control it, the addiction became more of my outlet. It seemed to be the only alternative for survival, yet, at the same time, it consumed me to the point that all my perceived stresses only seemed to magnify themselves further. It wasn’t apparent to me at the time that I was really running from myself and not the perceived stresses in my life that I justified my escape from.
“Since being in recovery for a number of years, I’ve heard similar stories. Not knowing exactly where we were supposed to be and who we really were. Today I’ve just learned to accept that I am where I am supposed to be, one day at a time and doing the next right thing.”
“At first I went to play Bingo once a month. It was my night out away from my kids and my husband. I never won any money. Then I went every two weeks…then every week and then twice a week. At first, I’d bring $10 a day to spend on gambling. Then it became $20. Then $40. My addiction was accelerating. By the time I stopped gambling, I wouldn’t walk into the casino bingo hall with less than $200. I did that three to four times a week.
“I realized that I had a problem. I went to GA, but I didn’t like it. Instead, my gambling problem worsened and I remember lying to a credit union to get money I couldn’t pay back. I borrowed money from friends and was unable to pay bills. I did this over and over.
“It’s been more than 10 years now since I’ve been in a better place. I’ve been a keynote speaker at the Minnesota GA conference. I am the trustee of my area and represent some of the finest people I know. I talk about gambling issues and how they affect our area. This is something I could never have dreamed of. I started my own business in 2007 and it is thriving. I got remarried and have a wonderful relationship with my children.
“I can’t believe how different my life is now. It is so much better. I don’t ever want to go back to the way things were. I don’t have to, as long as I choose not to gamble, one day at a time.”