Who hasn’t felt a spark of joy when a Scratch and Win lottery card reveals a win? And, of course, it doesn’t matter whether it’s $3 or $100; it’s the same thrill.
Or, maybe you experienced the smug satisfaction of raking in the last pot at a friendly card game? Or, perhaps you were lucky enough to take home a few hundred dollars after an entertaining night out with friends at the casino.
It’s all in good fun. Or is it?
No one ever expects the friendly sports wager between pals to evolve into behaviour that becomes problematic.
“With gambling problems, it always starts as fun. There isn’t enough awareness out there warning people that gambling can be addictive,” says Adrienne Cossom, a counsellor with problem gambling services at SHARE Family and Community Services in the Tri-Cities.
“They don’t notice how it pulls them in, and then it becomes something stressful. It’s a progression for some people.”
The major shift this year from casino to online gambling, due to Covid restrictions, has fostered conditions for gambling issues to thrive.
“It has become difficult to replace gambling with healthy activities,” explains Heidi Furrer, also a counsellor with SHARE’s problem gambling services. She says that young men, a demographic vulnerable to getting drawn into online gambling, would often go to the gym more regularly or connect with friends.
“It’s a double whammy,” she says of the lack of distractions and increased social isolation.
Cossom says another at-risk group for getting too caught up in gambling is seniors. Though they might not have made the transition to online gambling, they often overspend on lottery tickets and casinos.
Most importantly, Cossom and Furrer say that people need to know there is support readily available to help them cope. Whether it’s only niggling suspicion that they might have a problem or knowing they are completely overwhelmed, people are encouraged to call the program for support.
Making the call doesn’t mean a commitment to therapy. It’s a way to get some information and support to take back control.
“SHARE’s problem gambling services are funded by the Provincial Government and provide free counselling to anyone who has concerns about their gambling. It is also accessible to people who have concerns about a loved one’s gambling,” Cossom says.
The program is highly responsive in that people receive a call back within 24 hours and an appointment to see a counsellor within a week.
There are a few key signs to watch for those unsure if they or a loved one is having problems controlling their gambling.
“The biggest indicator is when a person can’t stick to the limits they’ve set for themselves: Whether that’s limits around the amount of time or amount of money used, or just knowing when to step back because they’ve won something,” says Cossom.
Secrecy is another big clue, she says. “Not being honest with family and friends about how much you’re gambling and spending is a sign.”
Another red flag is if gambling dominates a person’s thoughts, says Furrer.
For most people, she says, gambling is not a problem, but rather just a fun and social activity. It’s when gambling is a way of dealing with loneliness or depression, Furrer adds, that it can become problematic.
The loneliness brought on by social isolation during the pandemic can put some people more at risk for problem gambling.
Help is just a phone call away when you connect with the problem gambling team at SHARE.
Cossom and Furrer urge people to reach out, even if they just have a question.
“People are not expected to stop gambling if they have a conversation with us. We work with people where they are at, whether that’s stopping or reducing their gambling,” Furrer explains.