How common is problem gambling?
||Is it a problem for me?
Many of us like to place the odd bet or play
the lottery - but it’s only a problem for about 6 people in every
Across the world it seems to be common:
- In men – but this might just be because women gamble less than
- In teenagers and young adults - but problems of this sort can
start at any age. Children as young as 7 may find it difficult to
control the amount of time they spend on computer games. Older
people may have too much time on their hands.
- If someone else in your family – particularly one of your
parents - is a problem gambler. This may be partly due to genes but
can be learnt – by seeing a parent gamble or being taught to gamble
- In people who work in casinos, betting shops or amusement
- In certain types of gambling:
* Internet gambling
* Video poker
* Dice games
* Playing sports for
* High-risk stocks
Answer 'yes' or 'no' to each of these 10 questions:
- Do I spend a lot of time thinking about gambling?
- Am I spending larger amounts of money on my gambling?
- Have I tried to cut down or stop gambling - but not been
- Do I get restless or irritable if I try to cut down my
- Do I gamble to escape from life’s difficulties or to cheer
- Do I carry on playing after losing money - to try and win it
- Have I lied to other people about how much time or money I
spend gambling ?
- Have I ever stolen money to fund my gambling?
- Has my gambling affected my relationships or my job?
- Do I get other people to lend me money when I have lost?
If you have answered 'yes'
- Just once - Maybe a problem - This one thing
may be enough of a problem to need help.
- Three times - Problem gambling - Your gambling
probably feels out of control - think about getting help.
- Five or more times - Pathological gambling -
Your gambling is probably affecting every part of your life - get
How do you lose control of your
Living with a problem gambler
You may gamble:
- to forget about responsibilities
- to feel better when you feel depressed or sad
- to fill your time when bored (especially if not working)
- when you drink or use drugs
- when you get angry with others - or yourself.
Or, you may have:
- started gambling early – some people start as young
as 7 or 8
- never been able to control your gambling
- one or both parents who are problem gamblers.
The first thing is to decide to get help
- you can then work out whether you are ready to stop or just
want to control your gambling better. Many people just want to
control their gambling, but then decide to stop completely.
- Being married to or a partner of a problem
gambler – or being their parent or child - is hard and can be
- Your loved one will probably have tried to hide the size of the
problem from you, while they have at the same time borrowed or
stolen to pay off debts.
- If, with the help of the 10 questions above, you can see that
gambling is a problem for someone in your family, it's best to be
honest with him or her about it. They need to know about the pain
and trouble they are causing other people and that help is there
- If your gambling relative doesn't take any notice, you can get
support for yourself from one of the services listed at the end of
the leaflet. There are groups and individual sessions to support
Problem gamblers are more likely than other people to:
- become depressed
- have alcohol or drug problems
- commit suicide out of desperation because of their feelings of
being trapped by their debts
- be separated or divorced
- have committed a crime to support their gambling.
It's better to get help before you run into trouble.
What sort of help is out there?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
What sort of help is
12 Step Programmes and Medication
Research has shown that
- reduce the number of days a person gambles
- reduce the amount of money they lose
- help a gambler to stay away from gambling once they have
How does CBT work?
If you are a problem gambler, you will think
differently from other people about your betting. You will tend to
- you are more likely to win than you would expect by chance
- in a game with random numbers, like roulette, certain numbers
are more likely to come up than others
- winning twice in a row means that you are on a 'winning streak'
– so you bet larger and larger sums
- you are more likely to win at a game of chance if you are
familiar with it
- certain rituals can bring you luck
- having lost, you can somehow win back your losses by gambling
CBT is given in around 10 one-hour
sessions. The sessions focus on these ways of thinking, but
also on how you feel and behave when you want to bet or when you
are gambling. CBT helps you to work out more helpful ways of
thinking and behaving. A diary helps you to keep track of your
improvement. In the months following treatment, follow-up CBT
sessions in a group seem to help people stay away from gambling
How does CBT compare with other
We don’t know yet - there have not been enough
large studies to be clear about this.
12 Step Programmes
This is an approach which assumes that a
dependence on drink or gambling is a disease and that the best
people to support you are those who have had similar
Regular meetings are held in which people can
share the problems they have had and the ways in which they have
overcome them. They also have a 'buddy' system, where each member
has another member whom they can contact if they feel that they are
about to drink or gamble again.
The 12 Step fellowship, Gamblers Anonymous,
offers meetings throughout the UK and many problem gamblers find
these meetings helpful. You may also need practical help:
- Managing your debts
- Dealing with family problems
- Treat other psychological/psychiatric problems, e.g.
No medication is licensed for the treatment of problem
gambling in the UK but
antidepressants can be prescribed to help with low mood.
About a third of problem gamblers
will recover on their own without treatment and – about 2 in 3
will continue to have problems, which tend to get worse.
Don’t wait until life does not seem worth living. If you get
help, you will feel better and avoid many problems with your life
You can refer yourself by calling or emailing
the contacts below:
- American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of mental disorders (4th ed, text
rev) Washington, DC.
- British Gambling Prevalence Survey (2007). Gambling Commission,
- Black D et al (2003) Quality of life and family history in
pathological gambling. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,
- Blaszczynsky AP et al (1991) A comparison of relapsed and
non-relapsed abstinent pathological gamblers following behavioural
treatment. British Journal of Addiction, 86, 1485-1489.
- Griffiths MD (1990) The acquisition, development, and
maintenance of fruit machine gambling in adolescents. Journal of
Gambling Studies, 6, 193-204.
- Ladouceur R et al (2002) Understanding and treating
pathological gambling. New York, Wiley.
- Petry N (2005) Pathological Gambling. American Psychological
- Shaffer HJ, Bilt JV and Hall MN (1999) Gambling, drinking,
smoking and other health risk activities among casino employees.
American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 36, 365-378.
- Wohl MJA et al (2002) The effects of near wins and near losses
on self-perceived personal luck and subsequent gambling behaviour.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 184-191.
(2007) National Survey of Gambling
This leaflet was produced by the RCPsych Public Education Editorial
Series Editor: Dr Philip
Original Author: Dr Henrietta
Editorial Board: Dr Jim
Bolton, Dr Martin Briscoe, Dr Jonathan Dewhurst, Dr Jennifer Drife,
Deborah Hart, Dr Ashok Kumar, Dr Ros Ramsay, Dr Ajoy Thachil
Expert review: Faculty of
Addictions' Users and Carers Group
Illustration by Lo Cole