Addiction: When You Can’t Stop Pressing Your Luck

by Aruna Papp

Gambling is a popular activity in the country of the red maple leaf. According to Statistics Canada, 70 percent of adults spend money on some form of gambling. And the problem of addiction is growing: 1.2 million Canadians were at risk of having a problem with gambling during 2003. "Just over one in 20 were, or had the potential to become, problem gamblers, said a 2003 article from Stats Canada’s magazine, The Daily.

The real problem just starts here. As with any other addiction, gambling generates difficulties at home. "Half of all problem gamblers reported that their gambling caused difficulties in relationships with family or friends. Four in 10 obsessive gamblers (42 percent) reported a high level of stress in their life, compared with 23 percent of gamblers who reported no problems," explains the same report. Even more complex, about 18 percent of problem gamblers reported that they had contemplated suicide; six times the proportion of non-problem gamblers.

Gambling has become an even bigger problem in the recent years because it has become so openly accessible. People no longer need to go to casinos or secret gambling houses. Now it’s possible to lay a bet at the grocery store, gas station, corner store or mall, just to name a few places. According to Canada West Foundation, there are now 87,000 gambling machines (slot machines and video lottery terminals), 33,000 lottery ticket centres, 60 permanent casinos, 250 race tracks and teletheatres, and 25,000 licenses to run various bingos, temporary casinos, raffles, pull tickets and other activities in Canada.

For a growing number of people, gambling has become a serious threat; even to their families. Many addicts start borrowing money from friends and relatives. Lying about what they are doing with this money puts their marriage, their family welfare and their jobs ar risk. According to the Addiction Research Foundation, "A gambling addict is someone who will risk anything of value when there is the littlest chance that they might win. For people who are addicts, gambling stops being a harmless pastime. Gambling begins to disrupt their lives."

How can you detect an addict to gambling? The Addiction Research Foundation developed a test to check if your gambling habit is in control:

  • Do you have trouble sticking to your spending budgets?
  • Do you borrow money from other people to buy lottery tickets?
  • Do you use money intended for other expenses?
  • Do you find yourself thinking about buying lottery tickets when you are doing something else?
  • Have you and your spouse argued about you spending money on gambling?
  • Have you ever asked family or friends to help you out with gambling debts?
  • Have you refused to do something important or something that you used to enjoy doing because you now spend that time gambling?

If you have answered yes to any one of the questions, or if you know anyone else who might answer yes, then you need to seek help. Some aid is available at your neighbourhood community center, the YWCA, the YMCA, family doctor or settlement agencies. The phone number of the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto is 416-535-8501.

Gambling addiction is also hard to get rid of. According to Stats Canada 27 percent of moderate-risk gamblers and 64 percent of problem gamblers who wanted to stop gambling in 2002 believed they could not. About 56 percent of problem gamblers had tried to quit but couldn’t.