Canadian Residents: How To Recognize Gambling Addiction
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Canadian Residents: How To Recognize Gambling Addiction

Canadian Residents: How To Recognize Gambling Addiction

Canadian gamblers are, for the most part, responsible gamblers. However, there is a small part of the population (estimated at 3.2% adults) who have some form of an addiction to gambling. If it is not dealt with, problem gambling can harm both the personal and professional lives of the person affected. And, since gambling addiction is not always easy to identify, it can go undetected for a very long time until something serious happens or it may remain unknown. Canadians who suffer from gambling addiction don’t normally seek help and this is why it continues to be an issue. Let’s take a closer look at what gambling addiction is and the signs.


Gambling Addiction - What is It?

For some, this is the tricky part. If you like to buy lottery tickets every week, you are very likely finding it as a pleasurable pastime that sometimes covers its cost and sometimes doesn’t. However, if you are obsessively seeking casinos and gaming venues and spend hours on end inside one or online playing various gambling games, you may have a problem. Pathological gambling was classified as an impulsive compulsion before 2013. It has since been reclassified as an addiction. Here’s why that is: studies conducted in neuroscience and genetics show that gambling will alter the neuron networks in your brain in a method that can be compared to how it happens to someone who is addicted to drugs. This is just one of the factors that led to a reclassification of pathological gambling as a disorder.


The Defining Parameters

So, how exactly is gambling addiction defined in Canada? The definition follows what is known as the Five C’s…craving, compulsion, control, consequences, and can’t stop. The five defining factors in more detail include:

- An addict craves their addiction

- An addict seems to act compulsively

- An addict cannot control how much they use

- An addict continues their addiction despite negative consequences

- An addict can’t stop thinking about their addiction or reduce how much they use despite attempts to try to stop or reduce the amount


Gambling Addiction In Canada - The Warning Signs

The thing about gambling addiction is that it is relatively easy to hide. This is particularly true with online gambling. The setting provides an opportunity to gamble anonymously with other gamblers in various casino “rooms” where you can play slots or table games as long as you like. And although visiting offshore gambling sites is technically illegal in Canada, there is little in the way of enforcement, which compounds the problem. So, what are the signs to watch for that may tip you off that someone you know is a problem gambler? Well, first off, it is important to note that by the time the signs start to reveal themselves, significant harm has already been caused either to the gambler in question, or those around the gambler. As this will trigger a sense of shame, the gambler will attempt to further hide evidence of a problem.


Warning Sign #1 - Acting Secretively

If someone you know appears to be behaving in a manner that can be described as secretive or shady, for no apparent reason, this could be a very obvious warning sign. However, you will have to handle this situation carefully to not get pushed further away. You can do this by not invading their privacy and asking considerate questions. Don’t try to force answers with questions like, “What are you hiding?” or “What are you ashamed of?” They may eventually open up to you.

Warning Sign #2 - Money Disappearing

Unless you live and follow a very strict household budget, it is easy to sometimes lose track of the money passing through your hands over the past month. Sure, there are times during the year when you will end up spending more than usual, but if you discover that your wallet is a lot lighter than normal, it could be a sign that someone in your family has been borrowing some cash. You can let them know you are aware of the loss but don’t get confrontational as that will trigger secretive actions.

Warming Sign #3 - Denial/Defensiveness

Gambling addicts may not even see themselves as hiding things or lying to themselves and others about their out-of-control habits. This is denial, and if you have a friend or family member you have identified as being in this place, the best help you can offer is the encouragement to seek professional assistance. The hard part here is helping that person see what they are doing and in most cases, the only way to succeed at this is with a professional who can talk to the addict about their situation.

Warning Sign #4 - Reactions That Are Aggressive/Accusative

There are three classic types of reactions that fall under this category to be aware of. There is the blaming reaction where work or some other source is blamed as the cause for unusual behavior. Then there is the threatening reaction where a statement is made that may be perceived as a threat to the person asking about the problem gambler's actions. The final reaction to watch is the guilt trip where the problem gambler tries to switch the focus away from them. Stay calm in these instances.

Warning Sign #5 - The Misdirection/Confusion Method

There are a total of five techniques that fall under this category. Each is intended to fool you that there is nothing to be concerned about. Projecting is a tactic where someone else is blamed. Minimizing is a form of avoiding the present situation. Switching involves changing the topic. Joking is another technique used to reduce the emphasis on the problem by making light of the problem. Finally, there is intellectualizing where the problem gambler is convinced they have a workable system at hand.

Warning Sign #6 - The Agreement

Probably the most dangerous of the forms of denial that can come from the problem gambler is when they appear to agree with you that they have an addiction. They know you want to hear this and that you will believe them when they say it. However, the issue here is that the addict has no intention of changing and won’t be able to without intervention and professional help. You mustn't fall for this technique and use it to move into serious response mode.

Warning Sign #7 - Boredom

One of the things that happen to the mind of problem gamblers is the methods they use to seek pleasure. If someone you know has over time appeared to have withdrawn from family and friends or no longer appears to enjoy things that were once fun to do, this may be a sign. It can also be an indication of the onset of depression. Be supportive and try to include this person in normal family activities to try to break the cycle. Don’t force them to be involved, either.

Warning Sign #8 - Changing Priorities

If bill paying appears to be the last thing on the mind of the person you suspect has a gambling problem, this may be because they have already spent bill money at the casino. If you see notices arriving in the mail pointing to discontinuation of utilities or possible eviction for late rent payment, you will know that something is wrong. Combining this with mood swings and strange behavior and you may have a problem gambler in your life. 


The Triggers

There are a handful of triggers that can push someone who may not ordinarily be obsessed with money or the hope of hitting the big jackpot into a person with a potential gambling addiction. Although each person has different triggers that cause them to do things they may not typically do, these are the most common ones that are associated with excessive gambling. If you know someone who has experienced any of these situations, beware that they may be hiding a gambling problem.

- Divorce or loneliness

- A job loss or any other stressful job-related issue

- Retirement

- Depression


Serious Response Mode - Intervention

When you get to this phase, there is no turning back. An intervention involves all the people who have been impacted by excessive gambling. That will include family and friends. The key behind a successful intervention is to not lay blame but to gently nudge the addict into seeking professional assistance to deal with the gambling problem. An intervention also requires the gambler to own up to the problem as truly admitting there is an issue helps convince the gambler that they need professional help. The entire intervention needs to be loving and encouraging rather than aggressive or confrontational. The setting should make the problem gambler feel safe and loved to where they will admit there is a problem and that they need help. Be supportive and help in any way to get that person to a professional.


Are You Possibly Addicted To Gambling?

If you have felt a bit uncomfortable going over the details related to the warning signs to be aware of that can reveal there is a problem gambler in your life, it may not be such a bad idea to go over a few questions that can help you determine whether or not you are developing the signs of gambling addiction. If you answer ‘Yes” to two or more of the following questions, you may be at risk of developing a gambling addiction. Seek professional help to properly assess your risk and treatment plan.


Question #1

Do you feel guilty or have negative thoughts about gambling or the consequences of your gambling?

Question #2

Have you already attempted to reduce the time, money, or energy you spend on gambling and failed?

Question #3

Do you spend time and money on gambling that you should be putting towards other financial obligations?

Question #4

Do you spend a great deal of time fantasizing about the next time you will be able to gamble?

Question #5

Do you experience extreme highs or lows related to your time spent gambling?

Question #6

Do you find yourself feeling defensive or protective of your habit of gambling?

Question #7

Do you use gambling as a way to make you feel better about something?

Question #8

Have you ever taken a risk or engaged in illegal activity to help you fund your gambling?

Question #9

Do you surround yourself with people of lower stature than you because they make your gambling habit appear normal in comparison?


Gambling Myths

Probably one of the main causes of gambling abuse is the misconceptions that come from myths. Gambling in any form can become addictive whether it is online slots, the lottery, scratch ’n’ win tickets, or casino table games. The lure of making big money to solve all your financial woes can be an intoxicating attractant and confusing at the same time. Here are a few common myths related to gambling that we will attempt to debunk to help you understand a bit more about how the system works.


Myth #1 - You Can Beat The System

Every casino game and lottery is designed to make the House money. They do this by winning your money. However, you can increase your odds of having a better chance at winning back some of your bets by observing the RTP (Return-To-Player) percentage of each game. With slots, a random number generator is used in the software which makes jackpots truly random. Again, check the RTP rating to better your chances as big jackpots are random at best.

Myth #2 - Gambling Is Not Addictive

This is not true because the definition of addiction is something that you commit a great deal of time to. As we’ve outlined above, there is nothing wrong with playing the lottery weekly or visiting the casino regularly. But when the lottery and casino become items that you start to obsess over and cause you to shift your priorities, then you could be developing an issue. By keeping your habit under control as a casual hobby, you avoid addictive attraction.

Myth #3 - If You Gamble Long Enough, Your Luck Will Change

Luck, good fortune, and fate are pillars of Asian culture. Unfortunately, casinos know this and they use these elements to market to that culture and everyone else. If you are a firm believer that luck can change over time in a casino setting, then you are falling into a trap. Sure, you may have a good night where you won a great deal more than you wagered, but that isn’t the norm. Don’t let a winning streak confuse you into thinking that you are now going to win all the time.

Myth #4 - Online Gambling Is Illegal

In Canada, access to online gambling sites is very easy to gain. While the Criminal Code of Canada outlines what can and can’t be done as far as gambling is concerned, there is no clear directive related to online gambling. So, offshore gaming sites welcome Canadians. But bear in mind, you are taking a risk using them as they are not licensed to operate within the country. Provincial gaming sites exist and are a much safer alternative although far less exciting than offshore sites.

Myth #5 - Gambling Is A Good Way To Earn A Living

As stated above, the RTP is designed to make the House money. And it is easy to get confused about where the money comes from that is used to build lavish casino buildings or highly detailed online casino games. The money for these things comes from the losses of other gamblers. Yes, you can become a career gambler but in Canada, gambling winnings are not taxable until you start to use gambling as your primary source of income. And your losses can’t exceed your winnings.

Myth #6 - You Don’t Have A Problem If You Can Afford To Lose

One of the promotions used in Canada to encourage healthy, safe gambling habits is the slogan, “Know your limit, play within it.” It essentially says that if you can’t afford your losses, you have to adjust your playing budget. That is the only way you will be able to afford to gamble. Compulsive gamblers don’t set limits and overspend with ease. This leads to financial losses that can impact their lives, both personal and professional. If all you can afford to lose is $20, don’t gamble any more than that.

Myth #7 - Gambling Is Just An Adult Problem

As it turns out, teens are one of the hardest hit demographics when it comes to problem gambling. The Gambling Research Exchange in Ontario points out that between 0.2 and 12.5% of adolescents are problem gamblers. The stats also show that 10 to 15% of teens are at-risk gamblers and up to 80% of teens have gambled at least once in their lives. Since online gambling was first created, teens have flocked to these sites and lied about their age to create online gambling profiles.

Myth #8 - Knowing A Game Well With Increase Your Odds

There is something to be said about being able to make good bets at casino games. This is also why online casinos provide rooms where you can play for free. The idea is to build your confidence so that you won’t be hesitant to play for money. But this doesn’t mean you are suddenly an expert in the chosen game. Even if you have studied poker for years, there is still an element of the game that you will not be able to beat. As is always the case, winning leans towards the House.


How To Gamble Responsibly

Long before you enter a casino or log into your online gaming account, you should set a limit. The limit you will be setting is not how much you plan to use for betting. Instead, the limit you should be setting is related to how much you are prepared to lose. For example, if you take $50 to gamble with and win $25 after gambling $10 of your original limit, you now have $65. You are on the upside but then your evening takes a turn and you lose $45. Now you are down to $40. In reality, you have only lost $10 from your original budget. But if you keep winning a little and losing a little, how far are you prepared to go before you call it a night? That is the number you need to focus on as your limit for this gambling session. If you end up on a winning streak, having a limit for what you are prepared to lose is a good idea. 

If setting a monetary limit seems too complicated, you can always go in a different direction by using time. When you set foot into the casino or log on, make note of the time. Set a time limit for how long you plan to play. It can be an hour, two hours, or whatever you feel comfortable with. Set an alarm on your watch to go off when your time limit is reached. Even if you are winning, leave the casino or gaming site when your alarm sounds, and that will help you to keep from developing a gambling addiction. One more thing to keep in mind about gambling at land-based casinos…don’t drink any alcohol if you are going to do any gambling. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and cause you problems where you may start making poor decisions related to your wagering. Don’t let this happen or you may lose more than you had intended.


The Odds Of Recovery

Gambling addiction has become one of those diseases that is easier to recovery from now that there is more knowledge about what causes it to happen. However, not everyone who has a gambling problem will seek help or have loved ones who will stage an intervention. As a result, an estimated 80% of pathological gamblers will never look to professional help to break the grip of the addiction. If you think you have a gambling problem, one place you can turn to is Gamblers Anonymous.


How To Prevent A Relapse

Once the gambler has identified and admitted to having a problem with gambling, the first step to recovery is to eliminate the problem. This means halting gambling activity in all forms. For a pathological gambler, this is the only way to treat the disease. Reducing gambling to once a month or less is not the solution. It has to be completely removed from the life of the gambler. To resolve financial issues, the problem gambler will have to speak with a debt recovery accountant and financial advisor. Family members should refrain from helping with financial debt and should allow the gambler to take full responsibility for their debt and therefore concentrate on getting out of debt. Although a family can very likely provide the resources to cover any debts, bailing out a pathological gambler can lead to a gambling relapse.


Where To Get Help In Canada

To find a local Gamblers Anonymous support group, visit For a list of Gambling Addiction Treatment Centers, sorted by province, visit The Canada Safety Council provides Problem Gambling Helplines in Canada. To find the nearest one to you, the list is sorted by province at To access several self-help gambling tools, visit Plus, here is where you will find a long list of resources available for Canadians who are impacted by problem gambling: To find gambling help where you can access the assistance of a gambling counselor or share your gambling problem experience with others online, visit And finally, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-TALK (8255) or you can visit These resources can be a great deal of help for you and your family as you deal with a problem gambler.


Toll-Free Gambling Helplines:

Alberta Problem Gambling Resources Network - 1-866-461-1259

British Columbia Problem Gambling Help Line - 1-888-795-6111

Manitoba Addictions Help Line – Problem Gambling - 1-800-463-1554

New Brunswick Gambling Information Line - 1-800-461-1234

Newfoundland Problem Gambling Help Line - 1-888-899-4357

Northwest Territories General Help Line - 1-800-661-0844

Nova Scotia Problem Gambling Help Line - 1-888-347-8888

Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line - 1-800-265-3333

Ontario ConnexOntario Help Line - 1-866-531-2600

Prince Edward Island Problem Gambling Help Line - 1-855-255-4255

Quebec Gambling: Help and Referral - 1-800-461-0140

Saskatchewan Problem Gambling Helpline - 1-800-306-6789

Yukon Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services - 1-866-456-3838


In Conclusion

Gambling is a problem in Canada where pathological gamblers exist and are sometimes hard to recognize as they hide their problem so well. However, some signs eventually come to the surface that can tip off family and friends that a problem exists. There are ways to deal with a problem gambler, but the most effective method of recovery involves the use of an intervention and the help of a professional. The only way to prevent a relapse is to eliminate gambling from the life of the recovering problem gambler. Fortunately, in Canada, many valuable resources can be used to assist with long-term recovery to where the once pathological gambler can live a normal life without fear of falling victim to the lure of money, luck, and good fortune offered by lotteries and casinos.

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