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How can you tell if it's a problem?

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Most people who gamble do so without it causing them any problems in their lives. A few of those who gamble find it changes their lives for the worse. How can you tell if this is happening to you or someone close to you?

There are signs you can watch for t​​o see if you have a problem gambling. There are also risk factors that may make it more likely that you could develop a problem with gambling.

What is gambling?

Gambling is something people may do once in a while, as a form of recreation. They buy a lottery ticket, bet a few dollars on a horse or sporting event, or drop a few dollars into a video lottery terminal (VLT). When the draw or the game is over, they go on to other non-gambling activities.

What is problem gambling?

Gambling is a problem when it becomes more and more important and starts to affect other areas of your life. Gambling problems can range from minor to quite serious.

It could be as simple as gambling a little more often than you meant to or spending a little more money than you wanted.

Gambling, when it's a problem, may cause problems once in a while—for example, it's harder to pay bills or rent some months or it may get worse. It can affect your relationships with family and friends in negative ways, cause more and more debt, and even lead to stealing or other illegal activity.

What are some signs that gambling is a problem?

You may have a gambling problem if you do any of the following:

  • Spend a lot of time gambling. This leaves little time for family, friends, or other interests.
  • Begin to place larger bets and more often. The bets become larger to get the same level of excitement.
  • Have growing debts. Keep secrets or become defensive about money. Borrow money from family or friends to cover gambling expenses.
  • Put hope on the “big win". Believe the big win, rather than changing the gambling behaviour, will solve financial or other problems.
  • Promise to cut back on gambling. Can't cut down on or stop gambling.
  • Refuse to explain behaviour or lie about it. May be away from home or work for long periods, or may make a lot more phone calls than usual.
  • Have a lot of emotional highs and lows. Miss the thrill of the action if not able to gamble. May be bad-tempered, withdrawn, depressed, or restless. Is on a high during a winning streak.
  • Boasts about winning. Loves to talk about a win but will make light of losses when others express their concern. Wins and losses may also be kept a secret.
  • Prefer gambling to family events. May arrive late or miss family events such as birthdays, school activities, and other family gatherings.
  • Look for new places to gamble close to and away from home. May insist that evenings out or even family vacations be at places where there's gambling.

Are you at risk for gambling problems?

There's no way of knowing who will develop a gambling problem. Anyone who gambles can develop a gambling problem, but many don't.

There are many factors that affect your risk of developing a gambling problem. These may include:

  • how often you gamble
  • how much money you bet
  • what you believe or think about gambling
  • how many of your friends or family gamble
  • how good you feel about yourself
  • whether (and how much) you use alcohol or other drugs when you gamble
  • what kinds of gambling you like
  • how you react to the thrill of a big risk

How many of these can you identify with? Your chances of developing a gambling problem depend on the number of factors in your life and the ways these factors work together.

How can you prevent problem gambling?

Keep a balance in your life. Make careful decisions about how you spend your time, money, and energy.

Some ideas that may help:

  • Set a limit on how much time you spend gambling and on the size of your bets. Get help if you find that you go over your limit often.
  • Try to find ways to balance your spare time. People who develop gambling problems often gamble alone. Participate in activities with others such as taking an evening class, joining a club or sports group, or becoming a volunteer.
  • Use your gambling money for something special instead of putting it back into bets. Take up a hobby, save for a vacation, or treat your children to a surprise outing.
  • Learn more about problem gambling. Read books or borrow videos from your local library or community agencies. Find out about and understand what gambling and problem gambling are.

Could your gambling be a problem?

These questions can help as you start to think about your gambling. Consider learning more about how gambling can affect your life or have your gambling assessed by calling the Addiction Helpline.

1. In the past 12 months have you:

___ played bingo

___ bet on a sporting event

___ bought lottery tickets

___ played games of skill for money (for example, cards)

___ gambled in a casino

___ played slot machines or video lottery terminals (VLTs or poker machines)

___ gambled at the track (include off-track betting as well)

___ took part in any other form of gambling

2. In the past 12 months have you spent more money than you meant to on any of the activities in question 1?

___ Yes ___ No

3. In the past 12 months has your involvement in the activities in question 1caused money problems for you or your family?

___ Yes ___ No

4. In the past 12 months has anyone told you they were concerned about your gambling?

___ Yes ___ No

5.    In the past 12 months have you been worried about your gambling?

___ Yes ___ No

If you checked several of the activities in #1 or answered "Yes" to questions 2 to 5, you may have a gambling problem.​

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the Addiction Help Line. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.​

Current as of: June 15, 2022

Author: Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services