Gambling Issues

How gambling problems develop

Wanting to understand how gambling can become a problem? Find out more about what can put people at risk of developing a problem.

People can develop a problem with gambling for a whole host of reasons. Most people have spent money on gambling at some point in their life e.g. buying a raffle ticket. For many people it is an activity that they do simply to entertain themselves. For others it can become a problem and have a negative impact on their quality of life.

Risks of developing a problem

Often people who develop a problem with gambling are experiencing other issues in their lives. These other issues contribute to putting them 'at risk' of developing a problem.

People who began gambling at a young age and/or had a big win in the early stages of gambling, may be more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem.

Knowing why you gamble

Knowing why gambling became a problem is not necessary to change it. All you need to know is that you want to change your gambling behaviour. That said, it can be helpful to understand the nature of your gambling.

Thinking back to when gambling started to be a problem and identifying a major life event or stressful situation may help in understanding the change in behaviour. If this is the case, then you may find that as well as addressing the gambling problem you also want to talk about the other events or issues. 

Gambling continuum

It can be helpful to think about where you sit on this continuum. You can ask yourself:

  • How often do I spend money or time on gambling?
  • Do I spend more time or money than I would like?
  • What do other people think?
  • What might tell me that it has become a problem?

Identifying a problem

When gambling becomes a problem there can be signs that can help in identifying it as a problem.

Experience has shown that often, trying to stop completely or cut down without having any coping strategies in place can lead to the gambling increasing. For example, a person may try to stop 'cold turkey' but find it difficult to stay stopped or struggle to cut down. This can indicate that gambling has become a problem.

While it does not involve an external substance, research has shown that people who have a problem with gambling can experience similar responses to people who attempt to stop using a substance, in that they may:

  • Develop a tolerance for gambling (i.e. need to spend more time and/or money gambling to get the same buzz)
  • Lose the ability to feel in control of the gambling
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or cut down

Contributing factors

Sometimes it is the gambling experience itself, for example, a big win early in someone's gambling experience can create a false perception that gambling is an easy way to earn money, putting the person at risk of increasing their dependence on gambling. Gambling is really a good way of spending money. (You can find out more about the costs of gambling and thinking straight.)

Some people find that they once gambled socially and then it became more of a problem. Often, there was a major life event or stressful situation that occurred when gambling started to get out of control. This may include things like:

  • Problems at work or changes in employment
  • Loss of someone close
  • Money problems
  • Changes in physical health
  • Feelings of shame, depression, anxiety or stress
  • The breakdown of a relationship

Next steps 

If you would like to know more about how gambling could develop into a problem, you can:

  • Think about whether any of the risk factors outlined above apply
  • If you want to make changes, consider how any of these risk factors impact your gambling and what you could do instead. For example, if you are using gambling as a 'pick me up', consider substituting other activities
  • Start monitoring spending by writing down how much time and money you spend gambling. If it is more than you would like, or you see the pattern changing, there may be a problem.
  • Find out more about other signs of a problem

If you think that this is an issue for you, or having read this you feel concerned, there are options for help available now.