Gambling Addiction

Updated: | By: Frederick Worsham
Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a favourite pastime for Australians. Research in 2023 shows that 73% of adults in the country wagered at least once in the past 12 months *. Of this percentage, almost two out of five gambled at least weekly.

The thrill of gambling is undeniable, with online platforms making the activity even more accessible. For those placing bets simply for entertainment, there’s hardly a fear of developing an addiction. The same can’t be said for those who see the activity as more than a means of amusement.

Here’s a comprehensive write-up detailing gambling addiction’s meaning, types, negative effects and possible solutions.

An Overview of Gambling Addiction: What Does It Mean?

Gambling addiction is a condition where individuals find themselves unable to control their urge to gamble despite knowing the negative consequences. It goes beyond the occasional flutter or enjoyment of wagering on games of chance. Instead, it becomes a persistent behaviour that can lead to significant personal, financial, and social problems. This problem has varying stages, at which players have different or no levels of control. These include:
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Binge gambling
  • Problem gambling

What is Compulsive Gambling?

This stands as the worst-case scenario of a gambling problem. It’s the stage where individuals cannot control the intense desire to gamble. A compulsive gambler reaches a point where winning or losing becomes secondary. Instead, placing wagers takes centre, becoming an all-consuming force in their lives. Regardless of outcomes, whether they experience a win or a loss, the compulsive gambler is compelled to continue playing. This behavioural pattern continues even when they face serious repercussions. At this point, the thrill of gambling overrides rational considerations. The effects of compulsive betting behaviours go beyond financial distress. It disrupts daily life, affecting their relationships and overall well-being.

What is Binge Gambling?

Binge gambling is a more subtle stage, characterised by the manifestation of addictive symptoms during specific times or periods. People suffering from this might go weeks or even months without showing signs of a gambling problem. However, during episodes of binge gambling, the bettor who might have appeared to have the habits in check will engage in compulsive gambling. Regardless of the event’s outcome, they find it hard to stop placing wagers. Once the episode passes, they return to their regular betting habits. This wavering pattern can make it challenging for both the individual and those around them to recognise the extent of their struggle. If poorly controlled, episodes become more frequent and could morph into more problematic behaviours.

Problem Gambling

This stage sits somewhere between compulsive and binge gambling. As such, players suffering from this also find themselves grappling with a lack of control. Unlike compulsive gambling, where the urge is relentless, problem gamblers might not experience disruptions in their normal lives due to their gambling behaviour. They instead grapple with financial losses. This may be due to chasing losses, where the desire to recover previous bets is hard to curtail. Such players also cross certain boundaries, like borrowing funds to place wagers hoping to recoup losses or landing a jackpot.

What are the Negative Effects of Gambling Problems?

Gambling addiction comes with a myriad of adverse effects.

Financial Strain

One of the most immediate and tangible effects of gambling is financial strain. Excessive gambling can lead to significant monetary losses, debt, and financial instability. Individuals may find themselves in a cycle of chasing losses, which worsens their financial condition.

Mental Health Issues and Addiction

The pressures of problematic gambling can lead to other health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. That constant cycle of anticipation, wins, and losses can take a toll on mental well-being. Furthermore, the need to cope with stress or losses may drive individuals to turn to alcohol or drugs, leading to substance abuse.

Relationship Breakdown

Players who develop a gambling addiction tend to ignore certain aspects of their lives, including relationships slowly. The financial stress and emotional turmoil associated with these problems can lead to conflicts within families and friends. Trust issues, lies, and betrayal will arise, often straining relationships to a breaking point.

Educational and Job Disruption

Lack of attention eventually leads to decreased productivity. In cases where the player is still pursuing an academic degree, it causes reduced performance. That’s because the individual becomes more preoccupied with placing bets, which affects their ability to fulfil professional and educational responsibilities. This addiction could lead to a downward spiral in career and academic achievements if not curbed.

Physical Health Issues

The negative effects of problem betting aren’t just mental; they can also affect your physical well-being. Stress and anxiety can manifest physically, causing insomnia, headaches, and other stress-ailments. A person might also neglect their physical health by eating less healthy and forfeiting exercise when dealing with an addiction.

How Common is Gambling Addiction in Australia?

With 38% of people gambling weekly in the country, it’s unsurprising that over 300,000 Australians suffer from gambling addiction **. Research also suggests that 1.6 million Australians are at risk of developing a gambling problem. The following sections discuss the betting habits of different demographics.

Gambling in the Australian Adult Population

In 2022, the Australian Gambling Research Centre delved into the landscape of gambling habits among Australian adults, seeking insights into participation and potential harm. The findings shed light on a prevalent engagement with gambling activities, with 73% of Australians aged 18 and above reportedly spending on one or more gambling products within the preceding 12 months ***. Lotteries emerged as the most common option, capturing the attention of 64% of respondents. Following closely were race betting (39%), sports betting (34%), and poker machines (33%) ***. The study also revealed that, among those who gambled over the past year, the average number of products tried was 2. Interestingly, 23% tried out six or more products.

Gambling Among Young People in Australia

To explore the developmental trajectory of Australian youth, we look at the study ‘Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).’ This provides insight into the lives of 10,000 children and their families nationwide. Wave 7 in 2016, specifically focusing on the K cohort, highlighted that approximately 1 in 6 Australians aged 16–17 (16%) engaged in underage gambling within the 12 months leading up to the survey. As this same group transitioned into the 18–19 age range, the landscape of gambling participation shifted. Nearly half (46%) of the same group reported having spent money on gambling. The prevalent activities included poker machines (30%), instant scratch tickets (15%), casino table games (13%), betting on horse or dog races (12%), and sports betting (12%) ***.

Gambling Expenditure Data

Taking a closer look at the financial aspect of gambling in Australia, the figures from 2019 to 20 nation’s gambling expenditure. Aussies spent over $174 billion on betting ****. The total net losses amounted to $21.2 billion during this period, decreasing from $25.9 billion in the preceding year to $22.9 billion in 2001–02 ***. The dip in total gambling expenditure in 2019–20 is largely attributed to land-based gambling declines. This is especially true for casino gambling (down 29%) and poker machines in pubs and clubs (down 21%) ***. The temporary closures of venues in response to COVID-19 restrictions directly impacted these reductions. Regarding gambling expenditure, the trends point to higher figures in Australia’s most densely populated states and territories. The estimates indicate that New South Wales has the highest expenditure, totalling $9.6 billion. Following closely is Victoria, registering $4.6 billion, and Queensland with $3.9 billion ***. Moreover, the availability of gambling resources, measured by the total number of pokies, is notably concentrated in these states. New South Wales boasts the highest number, with a staggering 91,675 machines, constituting around 48% of all poker machines in Australia. Queensland follows with 44,918 machines, accounting for 24%, and Victoria with 29,404 machines, making up 15% of the total.

Measuring Gambling-Related Harm Among People Who Gamble

Insights from 2022 research shed light on gambling issues among Australian adults. Alarmingly, nearly half, or 46%, of Australian gamblers who have attained legal age were classified as being at risk of, or already experiencing, gambling harm. However, the risks of these groups vary, with some falling into the low, moderate, and high-risk categories. The study pointed out noteworthy differences by gender and age groups. It showed that a higher proportion of men who participated in gambling activities, 53%, were classified as at-risk of harm, compared to 38% of women. For age, those who fall into the 18–34 age group are more prone to harm ***.

ACMA

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is an independent Commonwealth statutory authority. It came into existence on July 1, 2005, through the merger of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority. The body regulates broadcasting, radiocommunications, telecommunications, and online content within Australia. ACMA plays a pivotal role in regulating the gambling industry in Australia. Collaborating closely with industry stakeholders and governmental bodies, the ACMA ensures that gambling activities are conducted safely, fairly, and responsibly. At the forefront of its responsibilities is the Interactive Gambling Taskforce. This body diligently monitors and ensures compliance with the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA), a key legislative framework governing gambling in the country. It also enforces the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering. This framework sets out a comprehensive suite of minimum consumer protections to safeguard individuals who engage in online gambling. Notable measures within this framework include the introduction of BetStop—the National Self-Exclusion Register. BetStop allows individuals to exclude themselves from all Australian licenced wagering services, with exclusion periods ranging from a minimum of 3 months to a lifetime. Beyond regulatory functions, the ACMA extends assistance to those experiencing gambling harm. This includes providing valuable information and links to support services for individuals seeking help.

Australia Gambling Addiction Help Organisations

Gambling Help Online stands as the national support service catering to individuals with gambling problems in Australia. This comprehensive system operates 24/7, offering accessible avenues for assistance across the country. Individuals seeking instant support can reach out to the National Gambling Helpline at 1800 858 858. The platform offers real-time online counselling through live chat, email support, and forums, giving users a confidential space to discuss their concerns. This forum also serves as a supportive community where individuals can forge connections with peers facing similar challenges. It becomes a space to track recovery progress, draw inspiration from others, share strategies, and offer mutual support. A comprehensive range of resources is also available for anyone affected by gambling. This applies not only to individuals directly impacted but also to their friends and families across Australia.

Australia Gambling Addiction Help Organisations by State

While Gambling Help Online caters to the whole of Australia, there are organisations specific to states.
State Organisation
South Australia Relationships Australia South Australia
Victoria Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation

How Do You Identify If You Have a Problem?

Recognising that you struggle with a gambling problem is the first step to finding a viable solution. You can pick up on this by identifying possible signs that problem gamblers will display. While these signs can be quite obvious, some players miss them or fail to pay attention, and the same applies to those around them. As such, it’s important to track your betting sessions. Have a private journal for recording your wagers, including the wins and losses. Pay attention to possible compulsive betting patterns, particularly when a wager is unsuccessful. Once you can pick up on a developing or already present habit, it becomes possible to work towards control.

What are the Signs of Gambling Addiction?

In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association released a diagnosis requirement for determining compulsive gambling. They include:
  1. Spending a lot of money when betting in the pursuit of excitement.
  2. Multiple but failed efforts to cut back on or control your betting habits.
  3. Feeling or irritation during attempts to reduce gaming sessions.
  4. Placing bets when in a distressed disposition.
  5. Thinking occasionally about gambling, including reliving experiences and considering ways to get more money to fund future gambling ventures.
  6. Betting in an attempt to recoup losses.
  7. Giving up on significant things like a job or relationship for gambling.
  8. Financially depend on others to help with money problems due to gambling.
  9. Lying to hide significant betting losses.
Players must display at least four of these characters for a positive diagnosis. Remember that simply reading this list isn’t enough to identify an addiction. It’s best to undergo a professional mental evaluation, as some of these signs might be challenging to spot. Plus, some players might be in denial, refusing to admit they suffer from any of the above-mentioned problems.

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

While it’s evident that easy accessibility to gambling might cause bettors to wager more, there are no specific causes of addiction. Developing this problem is due to a variety of things. First, it’s important to note that there are certain risk factors, like age, sex, and mental health issues. Besides these, here are other factors that might influence compulsive betting behaviours:

Psychological Factors

Gambling addiction can develop due to certain beliefs and myths. For instance, some bettors stake in response to the gambler’s fallacy. This principle states that previous events’ outcomes impact the odds of future betting rounds. With this, many players hope to hit a massive win with the next bet if they’ve been on a losing streak. The same belief makes some bettors overconfident when they’re lucky enough to have successful bets consecutively. Such a thrill makes them assume that they have some sort of control over the game’s result. What they forget is that gambling is all about chance. Even when you apply strategy, a win is never guaranteed.

Biological Factors

Besides beliefs and myths, biology plays a critical role in gambling addiction. Research shows that gambling releases dopamine, creating a euphoric rush akin to a dose of cocaine. In a bid to keep feeling the dopamine rush, some bettors keep staking. Unfortunately, this can lead to unhealthy betting habits, consequently causing an addiction.

Social Factors

External factors from our surroundings can significantly shape our behaviours. For example, stress or personal and work problems might make an individual turn to gambling for relief. The connections between gambling problems and various emotional states like depression, distress, and loneliness are noteworthy. Life events and low social support from friends are additional factors that can contribute to the development of gambling addiction. Your social environment is also important, as gambling tends to spike during social isolation or when leaving the house becomes challenging.

Steps to Stopping Addiction

Breaking free from addiction involves a step-by-step journey tailored to help individuals regain control over their lives. These practical steps provide a roadmap for change, addressing the physical and emotional state caused by compulsive betting behaviours.

Getting Treatment for Gambling Addiction in Australia

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to treating gambling problems. However, there are a few methods that have proven to be helpful. They include:

Seeing a Therapist

Since gambling addiction works like other forms, seeing a therapist is one of the best ways to handle it. It involves multiple sessions with a trained professional who assesses your condition and determines the best treatment option. When picking a counsellor or therapist, ensure the medical personnel have a proven track record for handling similar cases.

Medical Treatment

There’s no medication to treat gambling problems. However, there are treatment options for issues that arise with compulsive betting. The medication a doctor prescribes depends on the player’s symptoms, but it could include antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines.

Group Support

Group support systems are another pillar for recovery. Regardless of professional help, individuals combating gambling addiction find strength in these resources. There are different platforms for this, the most common being Gamblers Anonymous. Through GA, problem gamblers can interact with other individuals who have faced similar problems. Combined with therapy, this can lead to a fast recovery from gambling addiction.

Self-Exclusion and Other Solutions

Healing from compulsive betting behaviours also takes personal effort. Affected bettors must learn to practise responsible gambling habits, limiting the time and money spent placing wagers. Some online casinos and betting sites provide tools that you can use for this purpose, and they include the following:
  • Personal limits
  • Reality checks
  • Cooling-off periods
  • Self-exclusion

Personal Limits

Setting personal limits prevents you from overspending time and money on the gambling site. There are different options under this feature. You have a deposit limit that prevents you from paying more than a certain amount on the platform. Then there’s the wager limit, which stops players from wagering above a specific amount.

Reality Checks

Using a reality check, bettors get constant notifications detailing how long they’ve been active on the platform. Players can set this feature hourly or every thirty minutes, depending on the betting site’s offers.

Cooling-Off Periods

This function is ideal if you need to take a short break. Activating it prevents you from accessing your account for a predetermined time. Depending on your preference, this time frame can range from 24 hours to a few months.

Self-Exclusion

While cooling off means taking a short break, self-exclusion entails a much longer time frame. Using this option, the betting operator blocks all access to your account. Players get to choose their exclusion period, which is usually as short as three months or as long as five years.

How to Help a Person with a Gambling Addiction

Recognising if someone close to you is grappling with a gambling problem can be challenging. That’s why it’s important to watch out for telltale signs. These include clear dishonesty about their gambling activities, strained relationships due to increased wagering, or acknowledging the possibility of a gambling problem. If you observe these red flags, it’s time to approach the situation with care. When a friend or family member shows signs of a gambling issue, it’s crucial not to appear judgemental or threatening. They might be silently seeking help but are hesitant to ask or fully admit the extent of the problem. Once you’ve identified the issue, here’s how you can extend your support:
  • Approach with Understanding: Be mindful and understanding when broaching the topic. Avoid judgemental tones and tell them you’re there to support, not condemn.
  • Educate Yourself: Take the initiative to educate yourself about gambling addiction. Understanding the nature of the problem equips you to provide better support.
  • Avoid Enabling Behaviours: While your intentions may be good, avoid actions enabling their gambling behaviour, such as paying off their debts. Instead, focus on assisting them in finding resources like financial counselling to address their debts effectively.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Gently encourage seeking professional assistance. Offer to assist in finding therapists, support groups, or treatment programmes specialised in gambling addiction.
  • Participate in the Treatment Process: Actively engage in the treatment process as appropriate. Attend therapy sessions with them, participate in family counselling if recommended, and offer a consistent support system.
Remember, your approach can make a significant difference. By fostering a supportive and non-judgmental environment, you create a space where your loved one feels comfortable seeking help for their gambling addiction.

Myths and Facts to Note About Problem Gambling and Addiction

Over the years, several myths have developed about problem gambling. To clear up these misconceptions, we’ve provided the myths alongside the facts in the table below.
Myths Facts
Offering financial aid is a helpful way to assist a loved one dealing with a gambling problem, especially by paying off their debts or resolving financial difficulties. Despite the understandable desire of relatives and close friends to provide support, it’s not advisable to settle the debts of someone struggling with gambling issues. This approach may create a safety net, enabling individuals to feel secure in their financial troubles. Instead of deterring further bets, it might encourage additional risky behaviour.
Gambling becomes problematic only when the individual cannot financially bear the losses incurred. Contrary to popular belief, the impact of gambling addiction extends beyond financial strain. A person may grapple with a severe gambling problem without experiencing immediate financial hardship. The consequences might manifest in neglecting work responsibilities or strained relationships.
Responsible people can’t suffer from gambling problems. Developing a gambling disorder doesn’t depend on a person’s general responsibilities in life. It’s a disorder that, despite responsible behaviour in other aspects of life, can lead to a loss of control and might need intervention.
Problem gambling affects only adults; children or young people are immune Children and young individuals increasingly engage in gambling, notably through mobile gaming. Plus, they could be influenced if they have a close family member with a gambling issue. Such exposure can shape their attitudes towards gambling, influencing their perspectives on this behaviour later in life.
Individuals who gamble occasionally cannot be problem gamblers Signs of compulsive behaviour can go unnoticed when gambling occurs occasionally, like during a specific sports season. However, the frequency of the activity isn’t the sole indicator. Even occasional gambling, if it meets the criteria for compulsive behaviour, can still indicate a problem that demands attention.

Gambling Addiction Resources in Australia

Several organisations have sprouted up in Australia to help curb problem gambling. One of the well-known ones is the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Bettors struggling with compulsive gambling can seek professional help through these organisations.

Additional Resources

Besides Australia’s forums, there are additional resources Aussies can turn to. These include:
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • GamCare
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • The National Council on Problem Gambling
  • National Problem Gambling Helpline Network

Gamblers Anonymous

Launched in 1957, Gamblers Anonymous (http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/) is a global organization open to individuals with a desire to stop gambling. It employs a 12-step program to guide recovering problem gamblers away from past behaviours. Additionally, there are affiliated groups for children of problem gamblers (Gam-A-Teen) and loved ones (Gam-Anon).

The National Council on Problem Gambling

The NCPG (http://www.ncpgambling.org/) , established in 1972, supports programs and services that aid individuals, families, and communities affected by problem gambling. NCPG maintains a neutral stance regarding the legalization of gambling. Their website is a comprehensive resource, offering extensive information on problem gambling, treatment options, and a directory of qualified counsellors.

National Problem Gambling Helpline Network

This is the helpline network on which the National Council on Problem Gambling operates. It acts as an access point for problem gamblers to get local helpful resources. Individuals can reach out on 800-522-4700.

GamCare

GamCare (http://www.gamcare.org.uk/) offers non-judgmental counselling and guidance for individuals dealing with gambling problems. It provides a platform for individuals to access online support services. This includes real-time chat, forums, and resources aimed at helping individuals navigate and overcome gambling-related challenges. Interested parties can contact them via their helpline at 0808 8020 133.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline/), part of the US Department of Health & Human Services, operates a free and confidential National Helpline. It is specifically designed for individuals and their families dealing with mental health disorders, including challenges related to gambling addiction. To contact them, dial 1-800-662-4357.

Gambling Addiction Help Worldwide

Country Organisation Contact
Argentina Juego Responsable 0800-333-0333
Belgium Vlaams Expertisecentrum Alcohol En Andere Drugs 02-423-03-33
Brazil Jogadores Anônimos (11) 3229-1023
Canada ProblemGambling 1-866-531-2600
Chile Psicólogos Ludopatía Chile 9-222-3860
Germany Spielen mit Verantwortung: Glücksspielsucht 0800-1 37 27 00
Spain Federación Española de Jugadores de Azar Rehabilitados 900-200-225
France International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) +33 (0)2 40 84 76 20
Italy TVNGA 800-55-88-22
Netherlands AGOG 0900-2177721
Norway Hjelpelinjen 800-800-40
Austria Spielsuchthilfe (1) 544-13-57
Portugal Jogo Responsável 213-950-911
Switzerland Sucht Schweiz 021-321-29-11
Sweden Stödlinjen 020-819-100

References and Sources

* Gambling participation and experience of harm in Australia https://aifs.gov.au/research/research-snapshots/gambling-participation-and-experience-harm-australia ** Gambling Addiction in Australia: Highest Percentage of Gamblers in the World: https://www.thecabinsydney.com.au/blog/gambling-addiction-in-australia-highest-percentage-of-gamblers-in-the-world/ *** Gambling in Australia https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/gambling **** How much do Australians lose on gambling: https://www.savings.com.au/savings-accounts/gambling-statistics-australia Gambling participation and experience of harm in Australia: https://aifs.gov.au/research/research-snapshots/gambling-participation-and-experience-harm-australia Australia’s gambling addiction extends far beyond high rollers: https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Life/Australia-s-gambling-addiction-extends-far-beyond-high-rollers What is gambling disorder: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gambling-disorder/what-is-gambling-disorder Myths about gambling addiction: http://gamblingaddiction.org.uk/myths.html Tools for safe and responsible gambling: https://www.freebetoffers.org.uk/features/tools-for-safe-and-responsible-gambling/ Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/gambling-addiction-and-problem-gambling.htm
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