Gambling Addiction

Gambling is entertaining because winning some money from a guess or a calculated prediction is exciting to millions of people in Canada and abroad. Most gamblers lose more than they win in the long run, but they view the money lost as an entertainment expense. However, gambling becomes a problem when done in excess.

Uncontrolled gambling can spiral out of control, resulting in heavy financial losses and a poor quality of life.

What Does Gambling Addiction Mean?

Gambling addiction is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to bet regardless of its effect on your life. Around 75% of Canadians have gambled one way or another, indicating that it is socially acceptable behaviour when done in moderation.

Addicts engage in this habit despite repeated warnings from their loved ones and acknowledge that it harms them and their finances.

The frequency and intensity of betting vary from one addict to another.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addicts tend to hide their condition from others, but it is tough to do so for long. They frequently log into online casinos to play games for money. Even if they only bet in secrecy, they will display apparent gambling addiction symptoms around their family and friends. For example, they will borrow money more frequently than usual and find it difficult to pay it back even if they have a stable source of income.

Here are the gambling addiction signs people exhibit.

According to multiple studies, avid gamblers tend to exhibit certain mental health conditions. These conditions include anxiety, mood swings, personality disorders, drug abuse, and a psychotic spectrum disorder. They also have persistent thoughts of past, future, and present betting escapades.

Sufferers of this condition usually feel ashamed about betting but continue to do so. This cognitive dissonance tends to affect their psychological well-being. They might lie to keep their habits a secret, negatively affecting their work and personal relationships. Some of them try to stop betting but relapse along the way.

It is common for addicts to lie about how much they bet because they fear judgment from others. They also deprioritize other essential activities to devote more time to betting, thus leading to isolation. Addicts use betting as an escape when they are in a bad mood.

Gambling should be limited to money one can bear to lose, but addicts stake more than they can afford. They do not feel satisfied with wagering small amounts. Instead, they favour a high-risk-high-reward approach. Most of them fall for the sunk-cost fallacy and wager large amounts of cash, hoping to recover their earlier losses. It is also customary for them to take out loans or max their credit card limits to bet.

What Leads to Gambling Addiction?

Gambling triggers dopamine release in the brain, whether the person is winning or losing a bet. Dopamine is a hormone that gives the “feel-good” sensation that makes you feel excited. Unfortunately, some gamblers get addicted to this dopamine rush, so they keep up the habit, leading to an addiction.

Furthermore, a part of the brain called the insula might be overactive in gambling addicts. This hyperactivity can cause distorted thinking and the inability to withdraw from the habit.

The brain reacts to compulsive gambling the same way that it responds to alcohol abuse. It knows it is harmful, but the habit feels too good to give up.

In addition, there are certain factors which contribute to betting addiction, and they are listed below:

Brain Chemistry

Some people are more naturally prone to addiction than others due to the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine hormones in their brains. Serotonin is associated with happiness, while norepinephrine is triggered by stress. People with high levels of serotonin and a low level of norepinephrine are likely to make impulse decisions and be addicted to gambling.


This varies from one person to another depending on their belief system and how they think. Some people rationalize bad decisions, which encourages them to keep betting. For instance, a gambler on a losing streak might think their win is just around the corner, so they keep wagering. This is a fallacy, as their previous losses have no impact on the outcome of their future wagers.

Societal Influence

Circumstances in a person’s life can drive them towards excessive gambling. This could be stress, life complications, loneliness, depression, or distress. People going through these could find themselves resorting to betting to feel better.

Peer pressure also plays a role. For example, some people adopt gambling because a friend or relative does it constantly in their presence. In other cases, people perceive it to be a means to get rich, so they keep betting on hitting the jackpot one day.

Existing Addiction

An addiction to substances like drugs or alcohol can increase the likelihood of becoming a gambling addict. Also, people with physiological disorders like depression and anxiety will likely become addicted to betting.

Development of Gambling Addiction

Compulsive gambling develops from positive reinforcement and the physiological effects that the habit brings. Gambling addiction development occurs in the following four phases:


The gambler’s first big win triggers this phase because it excites them and makes them view gambling favourably. This early win births the belief that betting is easy and the wins will keep coming, causing them to spend more time betting.


The more time a gambler spends betting, the more losses they accumulate. Instead of cutting their losses, they will keep playing, hoping for a big win that will overshadow all their accumulated losses. Also, the fact that they have scored significant victories in the past will encourage them throughout this phase.

The constant losses will make them start borrowing money they cannot afford to pay back to support their addiction. And to cover up their bad habit, they will isolate themselves and lie to their loved ones.


In the desperation phase, gambling spirals out of control, and the addict will feel ashamed to speak openly about their activities to anyone. However, quitting will be challenging since the brain is already hooked. The adverse effects of the addiction are also prominent in this phase, as the sufferer might experience strained relationships, job loss, and bankruptcy.


The sufferer will lose all hope in this phase and feel they cannot get any gambling addiction help. This is because their life would have changed significantly, and to escape reality, they might resort to alcohol and drugs. In rare cases, some people commit suicide.

Disadvantages of Gambling

While gambling in moderation might be harmless, doing it in excess has many adverse effects. These effects coincide and can be challenging to resolve. The following are critical areas in one’s life that can be affected by too much betting:

Financial Health

Excessive gambling can ruin your financial health because of the accumulated losses and the inability to cut those losses while they are spiralling out of control. Some might accrue substantial debts or sell valuables only to lose all the money while gambling. In rare cases, these financial woes can lead to legal troubles, which will take a long time to resolve.

Mental State

Gambling addiction can have adverse mental health effects on people, derailing the sufferer’s career and denting their relationship with their partner. It can also kickstart a life of drug and alcohol abuse. If the addict does not get the help they need or is not strong-willed, they can take their own life.

Social Life

When gamblers start isolating themselves to feed their addiction, they stop making new friendships and valuable human connections. In addition, they might distance themselves from their children if they have started a family. This will negatively impact their children’s development and have repercussions for years.

How to Cure Gambling Addiction

With the proper care and support, an addict can permanently quit gambling. They can also improve their finances and get their life back on track. They must completely abstain from betting during their recovery because slight indulgence can make them relapse.

Compulsive gambling is treated similarly to other forms of addiction, and recovery programs help addicts learn to control their impulses.

Here are ways they can get gambling addiction help.

Behavioural and Cognitive Therapy

This process helps the addict gradually detach themselves from betting by learning to resist the temptation and focus on more productive activities. The therapy sessions will also help the person replace negative and irrational thoughts with more healthy and pleasant ones.

Addicts should also be counselled on how negatively impactful their habit is and how deeply it affects them and their loved ones. Then, they can fight their addiction with consistency, support, and determination to recover.


There are medications which help treat the problems that accompany compulsive gambling. Addicts that suffer depression, anxiety and mood swings can be prescribed antidepressants and mood stabilizers by licensed healthcare providers to aid their recovery. Also, patients might be urged to take narcotic antagonists – primarily used to treat substance abuse – for their condition.

Participation in Self-Help Groups

Some avid gamblers recover quickly by discussing with groups of people that are committed to recovering from their gambling problems. Belonging to these groups makes them feel like they are not alone in the fight. An added benefit is that members of such self-help groups can provide inspiration and support if an addict feels like gambling again.

Canadian healthcare providers and mental health caretakers can provide helpful information about these groups and how their patients can join.

To avoid a relapse, one should avoid all gambling triggers, like sports betting sites, casinos, relatives and friends that normalize betting, gambling forums, and more. In addition, any sign of relapse should be discussed with their healthcare provider immediately.

Compulsive Gambling Myths & Facts

A lot of people have varying beliefs about gambling problems. While some are true, others are false or misleading.


  • Responsible people do not become addicted to gambling.
  • Someone that bets occasionally cannot become an addict.
  • You can help a gambling addict close to you by resolving their dire financial situation.
  • As long as a gambler can afford their losses, they don’t have a problem.
  • Gambling addiction is only limited to adults; young people cannot be affected by it.


  • Anybody can become addicted to gambling, regardless of how responsible they are in other aspects of life. People new to the addiction may have a good chance of isolating their irresponsibility to gambling.
  • While occasional gambling might seem like a person is healthy, their betting style might indicate otherwise. For example, placing higher bets than one can afford indicates a betting problem.
  • Resolving an addict’s financial situation makes them believe they have a safety net in case of further financial trouble, making them likely to keep up with their addiction.
  • Financial trouble is one of the leading examples of gambling addiction signs, but a financially stable person can still spend more money than necessary on wagers. They can also deprioritize work or have strained personal relationships.
  • Young people now use phones and intelligent devices, exposing them to online casinos and betting platforms. They can also pick up the habit from the older people around them.


Gambling addiction in Canada is limited but not negligible. Nevertheless, around 300,000 Canadians are at risk of having severe gambling problems. Most gamblers start betting in moderation before a possible addiction kicks in. At this stage, it is difficult but still possible to recover fully. However, one should seek help when compelled to gamble with little control over their actions.

Frequently Asked Questions on Problem Gambling

What Does Problem Gambling Mean?

It means having an irrepressible desire to keep betting regardless of its adverse effects on you.

Is Problem Gambling a Form of Mental Illness?

It is a mental illness commonly associated with personality disorders, OCD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

How to Identify a Gambling Problem?

You may have a problem if you constantly think about betting. This includes frequently planning your next gambling spree or how to get more money to bet.

How to Recover From a Gambling Addiction?

Talk to a supportive friend or relative. Delete all betting apps from your phone and computer. Seek medical attention. Have better control over your finances. Replace gambling with a healthier hobby.