What is problem gambling?
Problem gambling is not just about losing money. Gambling problems can affect a person’s whole life. Gambling is a problem when it:
- gets in the way of work, school or other activities
- harms the person’s mental or physical health
- hurts the person financially
- damages the person’s reputation
- causes problems with family or friends.
Not all people who gamble excessively are alike, nor are the problems they face. People with gambling problems are found in all age groups, income groups, cultures and jobs. Some people develop gambling problems suddenly, others over many years.
Gambling problems occur along a continuum. These are not discrete categories but possible points along a range of involvement, from not gambling at all to pathological gambling:
No gambling: Some people never gamble.
Casual social gambling: Most people gamble casually, buying the occasional raffle or lottery ticket or occasionally visiting a casino for entertainment.
Serious social gambling: These people play regularly. It is their main form of entertainment, but it does not come before family and work.
Harmful involvement: These people are experiencing difficulties in their personal, work and social relationships.
Pathological gambling: For a small but significant number of people, gambling seriously harms all aspects of their lives. People with gambling problems this severe are unable to control the urge to gamble, despite the harm it causes. They are more likely to use gambling to escape from problems and to get relief from anxiety.
What are the signs & symptoms of problem gambling?
Gambling problems share many similarities with other addictive disorders. However, there are no visible signs or physical changes that will indicate a gambling problem.
Instead, there are common behavioural, emotional, financial and health signs.
Behavioural signs of problem gambling
- stops doing things he or she previously enjoyed
- misses family events
- changes patterns of sleep, eating or sex
- ignores self-care, work, school or family tasks
- has conflicts with other people over money
- uses alcohol or other drugs more often
- leaves children alone, seems less concerned about who looks after them, neglects their basic care
- thinks about gambling all the time
- is less willing to spend money on things other than gambling
- cheats or steals to get the money to gamble or pay debts
- has legal problems related to gambling
- is often late for work or school
- organizes staff pools
- is gone for long, unexplained periods of time.
Emotional signs of problem gambling
- withdraws from family and friends
- seems far away or anxious, or has difficulty paying attention
- has mood swings and sudden outbursts of anger
- complains of boredom or restlessness
- seems depressed or suicidal.
Financial signs of problem gambling
- frequently borrows money or asks for salary advances
- takes a second job without a change in finances
- cashes in savings accounts, RRSPs or insurance plans
- alternates between being broke and flashing money
- has family members who complain that valuables and appliances are disappearing, or that money is missing from a bank account or wallet.
Health signs of problem gambling
The person complains of stress-related health problems, such as:
- stomach and bowel problems
- difficulty sleeping
- overeating, or loss of appetite.
What are the causes & risk factors of problem gambling?
There are many reasons why a gambling problem may develop. For example, some people develop problems when they try to win back money they have lost, or because they like to be “in the action.” Others have many life stresses and consider gambling a welcome relief.
Various risk factors can contribute to the development of gambling problems or make it more difficult to stop. People are more at risk if they:
- have an early big win (leading to false expectation of future wins)
- have easy access to their preferred form of gambling
- hold mistaken beliefs about the odds of winning
- do not take steps to monitor gambling wins and losses
- have had a recent loss or change, such as divorce, job loss, retirement or death of a loved one
- often feel bored or lonely, or have a history of risk taking or impulsive behaviour
- have a history of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety
- tie their self-esteem to gambling wins or losses.
The more factors that apply, the more likely a person is to develop a gambling problem.
What is the treatment for problem gambling?
Free treatment, including counselling, is available to anyone in Ontario affected by gambling. This includes family members. Counselling can help people understand why they gamble, so they can stop, cut down or change their gambling. It can also help repair hurt feelings and regain trust with family members.
In most areas, an agency that offers specialized counselling for problem gambling is available close to home. In addition, telephone counselling and a self-help guide are also available. Credit and debt counselling services, family counselling and other resources may also be helpful. The Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline can link people to the support and resources they need. It is open 24 hours a day.
Counselling for the person who gambles
People often ask if they will have to stop gambling to begin counselling. Only they can decide to quit gambling. A counsellor should not pressure the person to make changes before he or she is ready.
Gambling affects people and their families in different ways. Problem gambling counsellors provide information about gambling. They help people look at their options so they can decide what is right for them. This may include taking a break from gambling. Some people know right away what actions they want to take, and others aren’t sure. Either way, taking a break from gambling can help. Then the person can think about how gambling affects him or her, and how to get back in control.
Counselling is a learning process. With new information, people can make good decisions. Counsellors can help them solve their main problems. This may include fixing a financial situation, healing family relations and restoring trust between the person and his or her partner.
Counselling for family members
When someone has a gambling problem, it can be hard for other family members to find hope for the future. Counselling can help them see that things can change. It can also help them see their family’s strengths and the positive steps they may already be taking.
Adapted from problemgambling.ca © 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Where can I find help, treatment and support for problem gambling?
Treatment at CAMH
Support groups for families
Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline - Phone: 1 888 230-3505 (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)
Where can I find more resources related to problem gambling?
Find out if you may need help with gambling problems (Self-help tools)
Learn about counselling for gambling problems
Learn about other ways of getting help for gambling problems
Problemgambling.ca (CAMH's website dedicated to problem gambling)
Problem Gambling 101 (online tutorial) Please Note:Your pop-up blocker must be turned off to view this tutorial