What is Problem Gambling?

In this section

Do you know what problem gambling is? Could you recognize potential signs of problem gambling in yourself or someone you know?

Problem gambling is defined as any gambling behaviour that compromises, disrupts or damages one or more areas of a person’s life. This can include problems with personal relationships, family, friends, finances, school or work.

The gambling continuum:

Gambling and risk continuum diagram

Problem gambling can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race or social status.

The gambling continuum illustrates how, as a person spends more time, money and energy gambling, the risk of developing a problem increases.
Likewise, the risk for problems increases as a player feels compelled to gamble either to make money or win back lost money, instead of viewing gambling as purely a form of entertainment.

People can move back and forth along the gambling continuum at different times in their lives, depending on a number of factors. Some people will try gambling and experience problems quickly, while others may gamble problem-free their entire lives; others still may develop a problem with gambling over time.


Some Key Differences between Recreational
and Problem Gambling

The table below shows some of the differences between recreational gambling
and problem gambling.

People who engage in recreational gambling generally enjoy the time, money and energy they spend gambling.

Gambling is viewed as a fun and exciting activity regardless of whether the person is winning or losing.

 
People who struggle with a gambling problem may experience anxiety when gambling and when thinking about or planning gambling.

Although there may be times when gambling is enjoyable, it is more often stressful regardless of whether the person is winning or losing.

People who engage in recreational gambling hope to win a prize or jackpot but generally accept that isn’t likely.

They understand that the odds of winning are against them and they accept the degree of chance present in every gambling activity. The entertainment of gambling makes the risk of lost money worth it.

 
People who struggle with a gambling problem may have the view that gambling is a way to make money and therefore improve one’s life situation.

Their identity may be wrapped up in gambling success/failure and they may have false beliefs about their degree of influence or control over the gambling outcome.

People who engage in recreational gambling also engage in other recreational pastimes.

Gambling doesn’t get in the way of their ability to attend to their family and other relationships, their job or other responsibilities and life pursuits.

 
People who struggle with a gambling problem may ignore other pastimes or commitments in order to devote more time and energy to gambling.

Doing so may lead to feelings of guilt that can further isolate the person from other aspects of their life.

People who engage in recreational gambling may feel disappointed after losing money but they accept it and move on.

The money was bet with the understanding that no win may come of it. The money bet wasn’t needed for something essential like a bill payment or food purchase so the loss of it doesn’t cause feelings of stress and anxiety.

 
People who struggle with a gambling problem often feel more than just disappointment about lost money.

The amount of money bet and lost may have more than the person intended. The money may not have belonged solely to the person (could be money shared between a couple/family). The money may have been for needed for something essential like a bill payment or food purchase. In these situations it make sense that the loss of money could be very stressful.