Are You a Problem Gambler?

Problem Gambling

Most gamblers are able to lose some money – or better yet, win some money – on occasion, without thinking, breathing and obsessing about it on an ongoing basis. But for a small percentage – in Canada, this is estimated to be about 3.2 percent of the adult population across the country, according to the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario – gambling can become problematic.

That means, it stops being occasional entertainment and excitement, and starts becoming a source of concern. This could be due to unsustainable financial losses, too many hours spent online or in land casinos, losing interest in social activities with family and friends, or all of the above.

While 3.2 percent may not sound like much, given Canada's entire population of about 34.8 million, this represents well over a million people struggling with these difficult issues.

And for a small subset of these problem gamblers, the issues can escalate into even worse scenarios. If losses become overwhelming, otherwise intelligent people sometimes turn to illegal activities like embezzling and theft – sometimes even stealing from their own family members – and often end up in trouble with the law, sometimes even doing time as a result of their financial crimes.

The devastation that can be caused by problem gambling is not something to be taken lightly, and if you or someone you are close to have become wrapped up in a lifestyle that is spiraling out of control, we are here to help you find some pathways towards answers, support and even treatment if it's recommended.

Fortunately, Canada has many very progressive support programs, and if you need help, you need not be ashamed at all. The important thing is to reach out as soon as possible, as the last thing you want to do is end up depressed, in jail, or having destroyed precious family relationships due to gambling problems that have gotten out of control.

Who Are Most Affected By Problem Gambling?

Let's start by taking a look at how Canadians overall fit into the problem gambler profile. Besides the 3.2 percent of adults we mentioned above (and these can range from having moderate to severe gambling issues), it's estimated that 2.2 percent of those in the 15–24-year-old age group are also affected, which is obviously a whole larger problem in and of itself.

With the popularity of online gambling, if an underage gambler is wily enough, they can find ways to get onto gambling sites, beating the many protocols that site operators put in place to preclude this very reality. No system is 100 percent foolproof that way, unfortunately.

Sadly, not only gamblers themselves will be affected by a problem gambler's habits. Family, friends, work, and society at large can all become unwitting "victims" when the addict ignores his familial duties, calls in sick to work, or ends up taking money that is not his in an attempt to pay off debts (which, typically, the compulsive gambler will simply use to gamble with more anyway, exacerbating the problem ten-fold).

How Can You Tell If You – or Someone You Know – Has Problem Gambling Traits?

First, let us point out that gambling addiction can be found in all socio-economic groups, in all age groups, and even in all financial demographics. While a person with a lot of money may take longer to hit bottom with a gambling problem than someone who is less well-off, that doesn't mean they will never reach that point if they don't get help for their problems.

Also, while the fallout is often the same - devastation to the gambler's sense of self-worth, depression, divorce and even suicide are common among those who leave their addiction untreated – the reasons people develop gambling problems are as numerous as the people themselves.

Some gamble to escape, others escalate their gambling to try to recoup losses (called "chasing). Some love slots, some may only play blackjack. There are penny players who can be addicts, as well as high-stakes gamblers. In other words, there is no stereotype of what a compulsive or problem gambler really looks like.

What Should You Do If You Feel That You or Someone You Care About Needs Help?

There are numerous resources, both online and on land, for anyone who feels at their wit's end trying to handle their problem gambling issues, or that of a family member or loved one. One great Canadian resource you can check out online that will lead you to many others is the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), an independent, non-profit agency that is dedicated to helping those for whom gambling is spiraling out of control, as well as to helping prevent gamblers from ever reaching that point.

The RGC's goals are to bring creative awareness programs to gamblers, but also to promote the adoption of effective player safeguards developed through advanced research. One of the unusual and positive things about this group is that they are not against gambling per se, and with that in mind, they work to coordinate programs between everyone from those who have problem gambling issues, to land casino and site providers, regulatory bodies, and those in positions to make decisions about legislative policies, as well as treatment professionals in groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.

How Will I Know What Programs Will Be Most Effective for Me?

As with most things in life, you may need some trial and error to find which approaches work the best for you. We are all unique, so there is no one cookie-cutter approach that will work for everyone.

We suggest as a starting point going to http://www.responsiblegambling.org/ and explore the site's many resources to gather information and possible ways to get help for yourself or someone you care about. You are not alone; don't be afraid to reach out for help, it is out there.

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