Problem gambling is not just about losing money. Gambling problems can affect a person’s whole life. Gambling is a problem when it:
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.
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.
The person complains of stress-related health problems, such as:
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:
The more factors that apply, the more likely a person is to develop a gambling problem.
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.
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.
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.
© 2022 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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