In some cases, gambling can become a problematic behaviour causing many difficulties. This type of compulsive behaviour is often called “problem gambling”. It is typically a progressive addiction that can have many negative psychological, physical and social repercussions.

Problem gambling is harmful to psychological and physical health. People dealing with this addiction can suffer from depression, migraine, distress, intestinal disorders and other anxiety related problems. Ultimately, severe problem gambling can lead to suicide. The rate of problem gambling has risen globally over the last few years.

Because of its harmful consequences, problem gambling has become a significant public health concern in many countries.

Gaming usually refers to gambling where it is legal to do so.

What are the signs and symptoms of problem gambling?

Problem gambling can become a progressive addiction. Some of the signs and symptoms can include:

  • craving for gaming
  • depression
  • feelings of remorse after gambling
  • gambler feels the need to bet more money more frequently
  • in spite of escalating losses, the person continues to gamble believing they will recuperate losses
  • increasing financial debt (using income and savings for gambling, borrowing money, resort to gambling to meet financial obligations..)
  • loss of control
  • loss of sleep
  • person persists in gambling behavior in spite of growing, severe, negative consequences
  • repetitive unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling
  • rising obsession with gambling
  • stress related problems (migraines, intestinal disorders..)
  • when attempting to refrain from gambling, the person becomes restless or irritable

Gambling is not a financial problem, but an emotional problem that has financial consequences.

What can trigger problem gambling?

Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. Gambling becomes a problem when behaviour interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace. Often, gamblers take time to realize that they have a serious problem.

Many people who develop problem gambling are considered as responsible and dependable people. Often, there are precipitating factors that lead to a change in behaviour, such as retirement, traumatic circumstances, or job related stress.

In general, it has been established that people with one addiction are more at risk of developing another. Some problem gamblers also find they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. They seem to have a predisposition for addiction. However, some problem gamblers never experience any other addiction.

There is also evidence that family patterns are also important factors. Many problem gamblers report that either one or both parents had a drinking and or gambling problem. Family patterns and upbringing are significant aspects in the propensity to develop dependence. In addition, a person’s genetic tendency to develop addiction and their ability to cope with normal life stress also plays a role.

The gambling addiction

The effect from gambling for a problem gambler is comparable to someone taking a tranquilizer, a drug, or having a drink. The sensation experienced is similar, although no substance is ingested. The gambling behaviour alters the person’s mood and state of mind. The gambler is hooked and keeps repeating the behaviour, attempting to achieve that same effect.

Like in other addictions to drugs or alcohol, the person starts developing a tolerance. An increasing amount of substance is necessary. The gambler escalates in the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before.

The gambler becomes trapped in a vicious circle in which there is an increased craving for the activity. At the same time, the ability to resist drops. The craving grows in intensity and frequency. The cause of a problem gambler problem is his/her inability to control the gambling.

The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. Some problem gamblers may only go on periodic gambling binges. However, regardless of the rate of recurrence to the addictive activity, the emotional and financial consequences will be obvious.

Problem gambling causes disruptions in any major area in the gambler’s life (psychological, personal, physical, social, professional). The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of the individual’s life.

The age factor

Research indicates that a significant number of kids have gambled before their 18th birthday.

Increased accessibility to betting and gambling allows children and youth to participate in some form of gambling (Internet gambling, betting on sports, slot machines…). It is generally accepted that children may be more likely to develop problems related to gambling than adults.

Parental attitudes, behaviour, morals and social upbringing are important factors in determining the potential effects of gambling in children and adolescents. Age of exposure is also an influential aspect. Studies inform that adults who seek treatment for problem gambling start gambling at an early age. A number of adolescents reported an obsession with everything associated to gambling prior to developing problems.

Types of gambling and problem gambling

Casinos and lotteries provide the opportunity to gamble. The cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s failure to control the compulsive behaviour.

As a result, any type of gambling (racing, bingo, card games, dice games, lottery, slots and sports betting) can become problematic, as can an alcoholic can get drunk on any type of alcohol.

However, some types of gambling have particular characteristics that may intensify gambling problems. Reports indicate that a significant risk factor may be a fast speed of play. Types of games in which the quicker the wager to response time, present a higher risk for players.

Gambling, a widespread problem

Problem gambling is widespread and on the rise. Increased accessibility to gambling calls for greater awareness and appropriate legislation.

Anyone who provides gambling services has a responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and problem gambling issues. Research, treatment, prevention of problem gambling should be generally encouraged.

Recognizing gambling-related problems and getting help

If a person suspects they might have a gambling problem, there are a variety of self tests available on the internet. However, those will not give a diagnosis and do not replace a face-to-face evaluation with a trained clinical professional. Those brief screens are tools to help people decide whether to seek formal evaluation of their gambling behaviour.

After a detailed assessment, an adequate treatment plan is adapted for the problem gambler. Treatment should be based on a complete evaluation of the problem, and respond to each individualĀ“s specific needs. Treatment and assistance includes all areas of the individual’s life (family, educational, financial, legal and professional).