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Many people find games of chance exciting. Some like waiting to see if their scratch or lottery ticket is a winner. Others like the feeling of making the right choice in a sports bet. Others find games of chance, like bingo or card games, to be social. All of these types of games of chance are types of gambling.

Gambling can offer certain advantages, as mentioned earlier. However, it is important to acknowledge that it also carries risks. In order to make informed decisions about being involved with gambling, people should be aware of both its benefits and possible drawbacks. For some individuals, the drawbacks of gambling can become problematic, making it difficult for them to stop their gambling activities.

In this article you can learn more about gambling and how it might impact you or those in your life. 

Adapted with permission from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

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Types of Gambling

When gambling, the kind of game you play matters. Some games have more risk of harm. When you gamble, think about the type of game you are playing. Your choices can make it easier or harder for you to keep your gambling goals. 

Types of high-risk gambling include slot machines or online poker. Here are some signs of high-risk gambling.

  • Fast paced

  • Making bets often

  • Want you to play more often

  • Can play for longer periods of time

  • Spending money is common

Types of less risky gambling are lottery tickets, card games at a community centre, or bingo. Here are some signs of lower-risk gambling: 

  • Slow paced

  • Less intense

  • Little cost to you to take part

Harms of Gambling

You are not at fault for being affected by gambling harms. Remember that gambling is made to make people feel excited, so they keep betting money. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. 

If you are worried about gambling harms affecting you or someone you know you are not alone.

Most people can gamble without many risks affecting them. People often think about losing money when they think about gambling harms. The Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines share other common harms for people who gamble. These harms are more likely to affect people who spend more, gamble more often, or have other risks of gambling.

In addition to financial harms such as using savings to gamble, here are some common gambling harms: 

1. Relationship Harms

  • Not having time to spend with your life partner because you are gambling. Not having time to spend with your children, extended family and friends because you are gambling

  • Not engaging with the people in your community or work

2. Emotional Harms

  • You feel guilty or lonely

  • Your thinking about gambling is distorted, such as thinking you can win back what you lost

  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life

3. Health Harms

  • Not taking care of yourself

  • Drinking alcohol more often

  • Taking illegal drugs

4. Cultural Harms

  • Not engaging with your cultural community or with cultural rituals or practices

  • Feeling isolated or less connected to your cultural identity

  • Experiencing shame because you feel that you do not meet cultural roles and expectations 

5. Legacy (Long-Term) Harms

  • Experiencing ongoing financial hardship (for example, experiencing restrictions due to bankruptcy or credit rating)  

  • Being vulnerable to further financial harm (for example, being limited to non-reputable finance providers in order to manage debt consolidation)  

  • Experiencing stigma or isolation from others

For more details on gambling harms, see the article called Assessing gambling-related harm in Victoria: A public health perspective. 

People at Greater Risk of Gambling Harms

All people who gamble are at some level of risk of harm.

Some people are at greater risk of gambling harm. These people might want to set stronger goals for gambling. This means that the Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines might not meet the needs of people at higher risk of gambling harms. Some things that might let you know if you are at higher risk for gambling harms are found below.

  • You have or had problems with alcohol, cannabis or other substances.

  • You have or had problems with worry/anxiety, low mood/depression or other mental health concerns.

  • You or someone in your family have or had problems with gambling.

Steps towards wellness

The Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines are a set of 3 guidelines to help reduce the harms of gambling. You can use these guidelines no matter what your gambling goals are. Their aim is to help you protect yourself. They can help you set and meet goals for gambling and the risks you’re comfortable with taking.

If you want to make more informed choices about gambling, this interactive risk assessment tool can help you. It will let you know what level of risk you might have from gambling, and how you can use the Lower Risk Gambling Guidelines to lower that risk.

Through groups like our Meet and Motivate Groups, you can join others seeking to make changes in their lives. You’ll make like-minded friends and hear inspirational stories. You can support each other and share the journey. Sessions are therapist facilitated, but powered by people like you. Each session will provide actionable insights and tips to help you progress toward your goals.

Please note that the Meet and Motivate groups are not exclusive to gambling concerns.

Our Peer Support Warm Line is a free and confidential phone service offered by trained Peer Supporters with direct lived and living experience of mental health and/or substance use challenges. The Peer Support Warm Line is a great choice if you are feeling lonely, isolated, anxious, or are in need of a friendly ear.

Please note that the Peer Support Warmline is not exclusive to gambling concerns.

If you are worried about your or someone else’s gambling, you can contact a regional gambling helpline for support. For more details on a helpline near you, visit the Gambling Treatment Helplines in Canada webpage on the Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines website.

Lifewise Peer Support Groups offer positive reinforcement and consistency for those living within recovery through engaging discussions and activities.

If you are worried about your loved one’s gambling habits, consider joining the Lifewise Family Group Support. This group focuses on the needs of the family member (including “family of choice”) as they support a loved one with mental health, substance use health or addictions issues. 

Please note that Lifewise peer support groups are not exclusive to gambling concerns.

You can always talk to a Wellness Together Canada professional counsellor for free. These counsellors are available 24/7 and no referral is required.

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