Jelena Kabic is a sports betting writer that focusses on responsible gambling. A psychologist by vocation, Jelena volunteered in a rehab facility, where she worked with gambling addicts. She now reviews all our content to ensure it discusses betting in a socially responsible way.
Fact Checked By:
Ana Gomes de Almeida
Before joining the team three years ago, Ana worked for five years behind the scenes for household brands like Betway and Betsson. She knows the ins and outs of casinos and sports betting sites. Having witnessed both the positive and negative aspects of the industry, she’s eager to share her expertise with fellow bettors.
6 months ago
Gambling Addiction Symptoms: How to Avoid, Recognize, and Deal with It
Gambling addiction is on the rise, and it largely has to do with the online gambling boom. Without the need to physically go to a sportsbook or casino, it’s easier to cross the line of gambling for fun and end up gambling because you feel you have to.
Knowing how to recognize the earliest warning signs and stop before you’re actually addicted is of the utmost importance for anyone who likes to place a few bets here and there.
And if you recognize you’re already addicted, you need to know how to seek help and which number to call.
Our extensive guide covers that and everything else you need to know about gambling addiction.
Why Do People Gamble?
People have been betting since the dawn of time. The earliest proof of gambling comes from as early as 2300BC, when tiles were used for some sort of a game of chance.
But what makes people want to gamble in the first place?
Up to a certain extent, we are all vulnerable to gambling. Feeling the adrenaline and the thrill of the moment when you can win is something not many are immune to.
My experience with treating gambling addicts has shown me that addiction doesn’t develop because a bettor is chasing after money — that comes later. The initial reason is precisely that moment in which everything is possible. But as much as you keep trying to recreate the initial thrill, it’s never the same as it is in the beginning. That’s why, just like with substance abuse, you keep wagering more in a hope that you’ll feel more as a result of it.
But while some know when to stop, others don’t. The culprit for this, in large, lies in the genes. Addiction tends to run in the familiy, be it alcohol, drug, or gambling addiction.
The reason is twofold. The genes themselves make families vulnerable to addiction, but it’s also about the environment.
Those raised looking at their parent gambling night after night often end up having a skewed understanding of what is normal. For them, it’s what everyone does, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
That’s why children of addicts tend to start gambling at a younger age, and find it difficult to stop.
What happens when you don’t stop on time?
Addicts that don’t stop gambling on time — ones that don’t have any limits set up — inadvertently end up changing their brain chemistry.
Dopamine, the hormone that causes the sensation of satisfaction and excitement, is secreted when gambling.
But after a while, an addict will need more dopamine to reach that first, strongest high. This ends up with them gambling more often, with more money, and eventually, reaching the stage of addiction.
Are there any good reasons to gamble?
It’s important to note here that some people are perfectly able to stop gambling whenever they choose to. However, they are gambling for far different reasons compared to addicts:
Socializing. Who hasn’t been guilty of betting with friends on the winner of some big competition once a year? Those who gamble as a form of social connection, and do it occasionally, can also end up having an issue down the line. However, it’s a lot less common than for those who gamble for the thrill of it.
Feeling desperate. Some gamble because they see it as the last resort. Maybe they’re already indebted for another reason, or they simply dream of getting rich quickly.
The love of sport. Finally, there are those who gamble because they love a certain sport. Again, as with any other reason to gamble, this can also get out of hand, especially for those who start off with a few quick, easy wins.
But so long as you’re careful with your wagers and limits, the love of sport can be the start and end of it.
How Common is Gambling Addiction in Canada?
According to a Statistics Canada study of gambling behaviour, over 300,000 Canadians are at moderate or severe risk for gambling-related problems.
That means almost 1% of Canadians are likely to develop a gambling problem. While it may not sound like much, let’s put it into a perspective this way.
Almost 1 in 100 people in Canada might end up with a gambling addiction.
How Many Gamblers are in Ontario?
Over 7,000 Ontarians (7,130 to be precise) admit to having gambled in the past year. Due to the legalization of single-event betting, Ontario now has more active gamblers than any other province in Canada.
Who can I contact if I fear I have a gambling addiction?
It’s best to contact the Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline. You can call 1-888-230-3505 to get information about gambling addiction treatment resources in Ontario.
As for other Canadian provinces, you can find helplines and other resources for every province here.
How to Recognize You Have a Problem Early on
A gambling issue doesn’t turn into a gambling addiction overnight. By recognizing the first signs that you might be headed toward a problem, you can stop before it’s too late.
So be on the lookout for these signs:
- You’re starting to gamble more and more often, and/or you’re starting to wager more money than usual.
- Your day starts to seem empty if you don’t gamble that day.
- You’re noticing changes in your patterns, where you’re spending less time socializing and practicing your hobbies.
Signs of a Gambling Addiction
Those who ignore these signs are far more likely to have their problem develop into an addiction.
The main way to know you’re already “there” is — you feel like you have to gamble at this point. It doesn’t bring you joy anymore; instead, not gambling makes you panicked and unable to sleep.
Here are all of the signs of an addiction that took hold:
|You’re always chasing to “break-even”.
|You keep thinking you will stop as soon as you’ve recuperated all your losses, but you only keep on losing more. Alternatively, once you break even, you go back to thinking you’re on a winning streak and can win more now.
|You’re ditching plans with family and friends so that you can gamble.
|Those who gamble for fun may place a bet or two with their friends or even alone. But once you’re addicted, you will stop spending time with family and friends in favour of betting or gambling, as the addiction consumes you.
|You start losing your old interests and only care about betting.
|Not only are you not spending time with friends and family anymore, you’ll even have forgotten about your old hobbies. Essentially, gambling will be all you can think about and all you’ll want to be doing.
|Your work starts to suffer.
|Because you won’t be able to focus on anything else, your work will be suffering as well. Many addicts end up getting fired and losing the source of money needed to gamble.
|You’re gambling with money you don’t have.
|Continuing on the previous symptom, gambling addicts inevitably start looking for an alternative source of finances. That may mean borrowing money to “stay afloat”, gambling with their life savings, or even resorting to stealing.
|You try to stop, but you can’t.
|If you have a gambling addiction, it’s likely you’ll often catch yourself saying “just one more game”, “I’m stopping tomorrow”, etc. You may have even tried quitting “cold turkey”, but were unable to.
|You start placing wagers that are higher and higher.
|Gambling addicts are chasing a certain high. Just like other addicts need more drugs or more alcohol to still feel that same high, gambling addicts will start wagering more and more money. Because they can lose more and win more, the high will be there for a moment, but will soon disappear, and you’ll need bigger wagers to feel it again.
Eventually, it’s highly likely you’ll end up indebted. Because your brain chemistry will be irreversably changed at this point, you’ll keep on thinking you can get it back, despite the evidence showing the opposite, and despite you losing more and more money.
If left untreated, this can all lead to you seeing no way out of your losses and your addiction.
Please stay careful and do your best to recognize these signs before you reach that point, and speak immediately to friends, family, and services that can help.
What to Pay Special Attention to
Addiction is a sneaky beast, and difficult to recognize sometimes. That is why it’s important to pay attention to and remember these next few things:
You can only bet on weekends and still be addicted.
Most addicts need to gamble every day, and it becomes clear soon enough that they have a problem. However, there are also high functioning addicts. They can be perfectly functional throughout the week — go to work, meet up with friends, eat well, sleep well…
But when the weekend comes, there’s only gambling and nothing else. They are often called “weekend users”. At one point, the weekends won’t be enough anymore, though, so it’s very important to recognize this pattern of addiction on time.
Similarly, you can only bet after work and still be an addict.
Your work or finances may not be suffering yet, and you may be able to hold onto your job and personal relationships. But if you spend your entire nights gambling, and recognize other addiction signs (wagering more, losing interests, etc.) call one of the gambling services in your province right away.
You can be addicted even if you’re not indebted.
Just because luck was on your side and you’re not running out of money yet doesn’t mean you’re not addicted. You have to keep in mind that the signs of addiction mentioned above are pointers. Every addiction has some of the same symptoms — the inability to stop being the major one — but every person and situation are different, too.
So while some may end up horribly indebted and a perfect picture of addiction, others may appear to be high functioning on the surface, but with the same set of brain changes and issues below.
How to Gamble Responsibly
The best way to gamble responsibly is to not gamble at all. But the same thing can be said for everything: the best way to not be an alcoholic is to never drink, and the best way to not be obese is to not eat.
If you are gambling from time to time, there are ways to remain safe and avoid making something fun into something detrimental to yourself and your life.
If you’ve decided to gamble because you simply find it fun and you can afford it, gamble responsibly by:
- Choosing legal, safe, and responsible sportsbooks that will prevent you from depositing too much or playing too much.
Sportsbooks in Ontario which own an official iGaming Ontario license have to have well-developed responsible gambling practices. These include recognizing signs of addiction and links to helpful services, as well as the option to place wagering limits.
- Always having a limit on wagers, wins, and losses.
Safe, legal betting sites like Bet99 or Betano will provide this for you as well, but ultimately it’s up to you to make good use of these tools. You need to be the one to take responsibility for your own bankroll management, because this is what, in big part, ensures you don’t slip into addiction.
- Excluding yourself from receiving enticing materials and offers.
If you catch yourself gambling more than usual and you recognize it as an issue, you can always put a “ban” on sportsbooks sending you gambling ads that may get you to gamble excessively.
If you’re starting to see a problem, don’t ignore it. It’s never too early or too late to ask for help.
There are many dedicated organizations out there, but it’s okay to simply start by asking for help from your friends and family. Alternatively, you can also choose to stay anonymous and to come forward to your loved ones when you’re ready.
What are the signs of a gambling addict?
The most common signs of a gambling addiction are the inability to stop gambling, losing social connections, hobbies, and having your work suffer. Being indebted is another huge symptom.
What causes a person to gamble?
The number one cause of gambling problems is the genetics, as gambling addiction tends to run in families. However, environment in which someone is surrounded by gamblers also plays a big role.
What happens to the brain while gambling?
When gambling, the bran releases dopamine, which is the hormone of satisfaction. The repeated pattern causes the person to get accustomed to this dopamine release, so they need to keep producing more in order to feel the same “high”. This results in gambling more often and/or with more money.
How can I help a gambling addict in Ontario?
Gambling addicts in Ontario, as well as those who fear their loved one may be addicted, can contact 1-888-230-3505 to get the information they needed about treating gambling addiction.
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