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Problem Gambling and Telltale Signs

Updated on February 22, 2010

When Games People Play become a Problem

What is Gambling?

Whenever you take the chance of losing money or belongings, and winning or losing is decided mostly by chance, you are gambling.

There are many different ways to gamble; Bingo, casino games, Keno, slot machines, lottery tickets, betting on horse racing. Nevada, scratch or pull-tab tickets, betting on card games, maj-jong or dominoes, internet gambling, stock market speculation.

When is gambling a problem?

Gambling becomes a problem when it:

· Hurts you financially

· Gets in the way of work, school or other activities

· Creates mental or physical health problems

· Damages your reputation

· Causes problems with your friends and family members

· It affects a person’s whole life

Why Do Some People Develop Gambling Problems?

In Ontario and other Canadian Cities and Provinces, gambling rakes in huge government revenues. Gambling, therefore, is encouraged as entertainment and peddled as a chance to win big and a chance to make "all dreams come true." It is widely advertised. It is popular with community organizations which use it for fundraising purposes. Opportunities to gamble is everywhere and popular due to government sponsored ads on TV, Print and Radio and public transportation systems, i.e. bus, trains and subway stations. However, most people don’t know the risks involved in gambling or the signs of impending gambling problems. Many people develop gambling problems without realizing what is happening.

In many cases, people gamble without having problems. They consider gambling as entertainment or a way to spend time with friends. They hope to win, but don’t expect to win. The problem starts this way:

· Hoping for a big win

· Trying to win back lost money

· Escaping from life’s problems, loneliness and loss of loved ones

· The excitement of taking risks

· Impulsivity (acting without thinking)

· Relieving physical and emotional pain

· Coping with depression and anxiety

SLOT MACHINES: The ringing sounds of a slot machine hitting the jackpot, frequent small wins, the chance of bigger wins and what seems to be near-misses may hook players to continue playing and spend more money than intended.

Red Flag Signs that Gambling Is a Problem

People with gambling problems often cover-up or lie about it when asked where they have been. Or, tell stories where money has gone. This makes problem gambling harder to identify. But there are many ways to spot the telltale signs of problem gambling.

Watch out for these money clues.

· Bills start to pile up, payments are missed and nasty creditors starts calling

· Valuables disappear and reappear

· The person is always short of money

· Money is missing from the house or bank accounts

· The affected family member is bad-tempered, secretive about money. He or she hides bank and credit card statements.

· The person borrows money through bank loans, family and friends or through credit cards which are ultimately maxed out.

· Registered Retirement Saving Plan (RRSPS) and insurance plans are cashed in, or payments are not made.

· The person juggles money to gamble or pay debts.

The emotional clues.

Problem gambling can also manifest itself when your family member shows this emotional behaviour or pattern: Withdrawal from family and friends, mood swings or sudden outburst of anger, is suicidal or depressed. Persons who are proned to gambling problems often complain of boredom or restlessness, seem anxious or far away and have difficulty paying attention. When winnings occur, the gambler feels good about himself or herself.

Time Clues Worth Watching. When your family member is (A.) Often late for school or work (B.)Or gone for long unexplained periods.

Sudden Behavioural Changes:

· Cheats or steals money to gamble or pay debts

· Changes patterns of sleep, eating or sex

· Stops doing things he or she used to enjoy

· Uses alcohol or drugs more often

· Makes excuses, doesn’t do as he or she says

· Doesn’t take care of himself or herself, or ignores work, school or family tasks

· Misses family events

· Lies about gambling

· Has more health and stress problems (e.g. headaches, stomach and bowel problems)

· Has money conflicts with other people

· Doesn’t want to spend money on anything except gambling

· Thinks or talks about gambling all the time

If you think, you or one of your family members is having gambling related problems there is help available.

Provincial and National Services

1. Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline (OPGH) 1-888-230-3505,

A free, confidential and anonymous service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. OPGH provides information in over 140 languages. It also gives referrals to:

· Treatment and counselling services for problem gambling

· Credit card and debt counselling services . Ontario Association of Credit Counselling Services, 1-888-746-3328,

· Telephone counselling services if available in your area or community

· Self-help organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon.

Sources: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)-Toronto and Centennial College Counselling Course



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