Problem Gambling and Addiction in Canada
While most Canadians enjoy gambling responsibly, there are a small percentage of Canadian adults (3.2%) who struggle with moderate to severe gambling addictions. Those affected do not roll the dice for pleasure, but do so compulsively and irresponsibly.
If left unchecked this disorder can wreak havoc in the addict’s personal and professional lives. However, the pathological gambler can be difficult to detect, as, like other addicts, he will protect his addiction by disguising the severity of his behavioral problems and resulting negative consequences. This can make it difficult for loved ones to confront the issue, or even to detect that there is anything awry. It is crucial that mental health disorders are professionally treated before they lead to serious issues like depression, bankruptcy or suicide.
If are worried that yours or a family members’ gambling is starting to become more than a fun pastime, please seek professional assistance. See our full list of Canadian problem gambling resources at the bottom of the page. For more information on symptoms and causes of gambling addiction and who may be at risk, please read on.
What Is A Gambling Addiction?
Why do some people enjoy gambling as a pleasurable past time whereas a select few abuse the habit despite increasingly negative consequences? The reason is similar to why alcoholics keep drinking, smokers keep smoking and heroin addicts keep injecting. They are addicted.
Before 2013, pathological gambling was classified as an impulse compulsion in the DSM like pyromania, rather than an addiction. Recent studies in neuroscience and genetics have demonstrated that gambling rewires the neural networks in the brain in a comparable way to addictive drugs like cocaine. This is one of the factors that lead to the reclassification of the disorder and the overhaul in the way the disease is treated.
How Is It Defined?
- An addict craves their addiction
- They seem to act compulsively
- They cannot control the amount they use
- Despite negative consequences they continue their addiction
- They can’t stop thinking about their addiction or reduce their amount despite attempts to try
What Are the Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction?
By the time individuals reveal themselves through their behavior to be an addict, they will have already caused significant harm to themselves or others. The abuser will feel a high degree of shame about their actions and try to eliminate all traces of their actions by lying, often even to themselves. Watch out for the following warning signs of the compulsive gambler:
If you find a loved one acting more shady and secretive than before, this should always ring warning bells. What is it they are ashamed of? What are they hiding? Keep a close eye on them, but don’t invade their privacy, as this will push them further away. Just ask considerate questions, perhaps they will open up.
Lighter Wallet Than You Remember
Where did it go? Were you really that careless with money this month? Didn’t think so. Keep a close eye on your money and keep a note of the amount of money that has gone missing. Let your loved one know you are aware of the theft, but don’t directly confront them unless you have hard evidence.
Defensive Behavior: Denial
People who are in denial often don’t realize they are lying and covering up their behavior as their own subconscious tries to hide the fact even from themselves. As a loved one, you should try to encourage the addict to face facts and seek professional help. Perhaps you notice the poker chips in their pocket and casually ask them when they were last at the casino. There are different types of denial reactions to look out for that can signify if a loved one has a problem.
Aggressive and Accusative Reactions
Blaming: "Work is really stressful at the moment and it doesn’t help that you are always on my back about xyz. "
Threatening: "See what happens if you bring that up again.” Or, alternatively, “You had better loan me that cash."
Guilt Tripping: "After all I’ve done for you, this is how you treat me? "
These reactions scream back off, and instinctively you will find yourself angry with the individual. They will skillfully redirect the focus towards your problems or to a lesser problem of their own, which they may apologize for to placate you. Alternatively, you will walk away and give them the silent treatment. Either way, these outcomes are preferable to the pathological gambler. Instead, remain calm regardless of how much they try to goad you into a negative reaction. You will soon see that the over reaction is paper thin.
Misdirection and Confusion Technique: Don’t Fall For It
Projecting: "Simona dragged me there again last night, she really needs to lay off the cards! Glad I’m not there as often as her."
Minimizing: "Oh, those are left over from when we went a few weeks ago, I don’t think I’ve been since then. That receipt says it’s from last night? Yeah I forgot, I only played a hand with my work buddies. "
Switching: "I have my vices. Who doesn’t in this awful world we live in. Capitalism has really messed us all up, hasn’t it?"
Joking: "I can stop gambling! I stop every time I change slot machines. "
Intellectualizing: "I’ve figured out the system, there’s a mathematical method to my madness, soon we’ll be rolling in it."
And The Most Dangerous Of All Denials…
Agreeing: "Yeah you’re right I really should stop… This is the last time I swear."
This is exactly what loved ones want to hear and have no problem with believing it every time. The fact is, the addict isn’t going to change without intervention and professional help.
Confronting the Addict: Intervention
Gather together friends and family who have been affected by the excessive gambling. The point of the intervention is not blame, but to get the afflicted person to seek professional help and to face up to their problem. The tone should be loving and encouraging, never confrontational or aggressive. The individual should feel safe to admit their problems and positive action should be taken that day, with the person’s permission. If at any point, you feel the sufferer is at risk of self-harm or suicide the contact the suicide prevention helpline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Take the Self Diagnosis Test
Has the above page started ringing some uncomfortable bells for you personally? Answer our self-diagnostic test to see if you may have a problem with pathological gambling.
- Do you feel guilty or have negative thoughts about gambling or the consequences of your gambling?
- Have you previously tried to cut down on time, money and energy spent on gambling and failed?
- Do you find yourself spending time & money on gambling that should be spent on other financial obligations?
- Do you spend inordinate amounts of time fantasising about the next time?
- Do you feel extreme highs and lows relating to gambling?
- Do you feel defensive and protective of your “habit”?
- Do you gamble to make yourself feel better?
- Have you found yourself taking risks or engaging in illegal activity to fund your ‘habit”?
- Have you found yourself surrounding yourself with “lower” people, because they make your own gambling seem normal by comparison?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, you are at a very high risk for gambling addiction and should seek professional help and assessment. Please see the list of local resources at the bottom of the page.
Positive Steps for Recovery
Now that this disease is better understood, more and more people are successfully recovering from gambling addiction. However, it is estimated that up to 80% of pathological gamblers never seek treatment for their problems. In order to recover, the addict needs to first confront the fact that he is an addict. With the help and support of friends and family, or even just a support group like Gamblers Anonymous, the individual can find their way to recovery. Positive lifestyle changes, like disassociating themselves from their previous detrimental associates and haunts, will aid the recovery process.
Once identified as an addict, the problem-gambler should eliminate gambling from their lives entirely. There is no such thing as “one more hand” for a pathological gambler. Talking with a debt recovery accountant and financial advisor will help alleviate the accumulated financial burden. Family members should allow the addict to take on the responsibility of their own debt and not bail them out. As difficult as it may seem, bailing out the compulsive gambler will enable the disease, making them more prone to relapse.
Gambling Addiction and Mental Health Resources in Canada
- Please find a local Gamblers Anonymous support group: www.gamblersanonymous.org
- List of Gambling Addiction Treatment Centers, sorted by province: www.canadadrugrehab.ca
- Canada Safety Council offers Problem Gambling Helplines in Canada, also sorted by province: canadasafetycouncil.org
- Problemgambling.ca offers a list of self-help gambling tools: www.problemgambling.ca
- As well as a long list of resources for Canadians affected by problem gambling: www.problemgambling.ca
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-TALK (8255) www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org