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A Gambling Problem: How Can You Tell?

While most people gamble 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?

Below are some of the signs of problem gambling and some of the risk factors in developing a problem with gambling.

What is gambling?

For many people, gambling is something they do once in a while, as a form of recreation. They buy a lottery ticket, bet a few dollars on a horse, or drop a loonie into a machine. When the draw or the game is over, they go on to other non-gambling activities.

What is problem gambling?

But for some people, gambling becomes more and more important and becomes a problem. 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 meant to, or maybe making it hard to pay the utility bills or meet a car payment some months.

The gambling may cause problems in the gambler’s life once it a while—for example, making it harder to pay the utility bill or rent some months. Or it may get worse, affecting the gambler and his or her family in negative ways—causing a lot of debt, marriage problems, even illegal activity.

What are some signs that a person may have a gambling problem?

Here are some signs that a person may have a gambling problem:

  • Spends a lot of time gambling. This leaves little time for family, friends, or other interests.
  • Begins to place larger bets and more often. The bets become larger to get the same level of excitement.
  • Has growing debts. Is secretive or defensive about money. He or she may borrow money from family or friends.
  • Pins hopes on the “big win”. Believes the big win, rather than changing the gambling behaviour, will solve financial or other problems.
  • Promises to cut back on gambling. Can’t cut down on or stop gambling.
  • Refuses to explain behaviour or lies about it. May be away from home or work for long periods, or may make a lot more phone calls than usual.
  • Has a lot of highs and lows. Misses 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 May be bad-tempered, withdrawn, depressed, or restless.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.
  • Prefers gambling to family events. May arrive late or miss family events such as birthdays, school activi¬ties, and other family gatherings.
  • Looks 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 is gambling.

Are you at risk for gambling problems?

Anyone who gambles can develop a gambling problem. For some is the risk is very low, while for others the risk is high.

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

  • how often you gamble
  • how much money you bet
  • what you believe 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 sound familiar? 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.

Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Set a limit on the amount of time that you spend gambling and on the size of your bets. Get help if you find that you go over the limit often.
  • Problem gamblers often gamble alone, so get involved in activities with other people. Take an evening class, join a club or sports group, or become a volunteer.
  • Use your gambling money for something special instead. 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, so you understand what gambling and problem gambling are.

Gambling screen

These questions may help you explore your gambling experience. If you find that checked a lot of the boxes in #1 or you answered "Yes" to questions 2 through 5, you may have a gambling problem. Think about learning more about gambling or have your gambling assessed by calling the 24-hour Helpline.

  1. In the past 12 months have you:

    ___ played bingo
    ___ bet on sporting events
    ___ bought lottery tickets
    ___ played games of skill for money (e.g., cards)
    ___ gambled in a casino
    ___ played slot machines or video lottery machines (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 above activities?

    ___ Yes ___ No

  3. In the past 12 months has your involvement in the above activities caused financial 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

  6. For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Help Line.
Last Revised: August 30, 2012

Owner: 
Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services
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