Written by: Terri-Lynn MacKay, Ph.D., C.Psych. Mental Health Director at ALAViDA Substance Use, a product of LifeSpeak Inc.
Gambling can be an enjoyable pastime, but for some people, it can lead to serious problems affecting their well-being and the well-being of those around them.
Back in the day, the only way you could gamble was by leaving your house. Today, from the comfort of your phone, tablet, or laptop, you can gamble from anywhere, even while you work, eat, rest, or commute. Now that access has increased, stopping can be harder than ever.
Understanding the factors that contribute to the development of gambling issues can help find effective solutions. We will explore the various factors linked with gambling problems, including false beliefs that drive addictive behaviors, and outline some harm reduction strategies to support those facing this challenge
Gambling problems arise due to a complex interplay of factors. Genetics may play a role because we know addictive tendencies run in families. Changes in the neurotransmitter reward system can lead to tolerance, where someone needs to gamble more frequently or with higher stakes to experience the same feeling of excitement.
People who have had adverse childhood experiences or experienced trauma are at a higher risk of developing addictive behaviors, including gambling. The presence of other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and substance use can increase the susceptibility to developing a gambling problem.
Certain characteristics like winning at a young age, playing games with immediate rewards, being biologically male, impulsive tendencies, being single, and age (the average age of developing a gambling problem is 40) may also increase the likelihood of developing a gambling problem. It is important to note that while these factors are correlated with gambling problems, they do not cause them
Cognitive distortions, also known as false beliefs, are biases that affect how individuals perceive and process information. Common cognitive distortions in gambling include:
Individuals with gambling problems are more likely to exhibit these cognitive distortions. Recognizing the impact of thoughts on behaviors is a good first step in developing healthier patterns of play.
The diagnosis of a Gambling Disorder is based on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Key indicators include:
If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s gambling behavior, seeking help through free online resources, peer support organizations, or a trained professional can help you make a change. You can also find support with ALAViDA Substance Use, a product of LifeSpeak Inc
You may not be ready to stop gambling, and that is OK. Instead, a harm reduction approach helps you build a toolkit to reduce and/or protect yourself against the negative consequences of this behavior. Consider these strategies:
Supporting someone with a gambling problem can be challenging but it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. The Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT) approach is a well-researched method to help support a loved one who is struggling with an addictive behavior. CRAFT strategies include:
Supporting someone with a gambling problem is more effective when you also take care of yourself. Set boundaries, seek support from understanding friends or support groups, and consider professional help if needed.
Understanding the factors that contribute to gambling problems can aid in supporting your loved one. Empathy and compassion play a vital role in helping loved ones overcome challenges with gambling.
Changing your relationship with gambling doesn’t have to be something you navigate on your own.
ALAViDA can offer the help you need. Our iCBT modules (internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) are one of the primary support options we provide, along with optional group coaching and tracking tools available through the TRAiL platform.
Ready to learn more? All OTIP members, including RTIP, Home/Auto, and Life Insurance customers have complimentary access to the ALAViDA TRAiL.
Dr. Terri-Lynn Mackay, C.Psych, is the Mental Health Director of ALAViDA Substance Use, a product of LifeSpeak Inc. She leads a care team who provide members with compassionate, non-judgmental, evidence-based care. In her previous roles, Dr. Mackay served as the Director of Operations for the Canadian mental health pandemic response, the Associate Director of Counselling Services at the University of British Columbia, an Associate Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Provincial Director of Innovation and Partnerships for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Dr. Mackay holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s degree in Behavioural Neuroscience.