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Understanding gambling addiction

09 January, 2015
disastrous consequences, criminal

While many Australians enjoy occasionally buying lottery tickets or betting online, over the last decade in Australia there has been a reduction in the rate of gambling. According to Roy Morgan, in 2008, nearly 64.7% of Australians over 18 gambled in an average three months and in 2018, only 47.9% gambled in the same period. While occasional gambling is a form of entertainment for most people, for others, it can develop into a serious problem. According to the Australian Psychological Association, gambling becomes a problem when it’s difficult for a person to control and starts to negatively impact their life.  

What is gambling?

According to Gambling Help Online, gambling is an activity where someone risks losing money or other belongings. There is an element of chance in the activity and the purpose is to win.

Gambling activities can include:

  • gaming machines
  • lottery
  • scratch cards
  • sports betting

Emerging gambling activities include:

  • online investment trading
  • fantasy sports
  • games with in app purchases
  • online auctions

Understanding addiction

According to ReachOut Australia, addiction is when someone repeatedly uses a substance or engages in a behaviour for pleasure, even though they know it causes them harm. You can be addicted to substances like nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, or activities like gambling.

The signs of addiction generally include:

  • needing more of the activity or substance to get the same positive effect
  • becoming more dependent on the activity or substance as a tool to forget about your problems
  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • decrease in your performance at work
  • feelings of anxiety and depression

Recognising a gambling problem

According to the Australian Psychological Association, there are no consistent symptoms of problem gambling, but there are signs that may indicate a problem.

These signs can include:

  • constant thoughts about gambling
  • irritability or restlessness if you try to stop gambling
  • gambling to escape other problems in your life
  • gambling more and more money in order to feel excited
  • lying to cover up the extent of your gambling
  • difficulty at work or school as a result of gambling
  • relying on others for financial support after heavy gambling losses
  • the need to gamble more and more money to achieve a feeling of excitement

When someone has a gambling addiction, they often can’t control their gambling. This is true even if they can see that it’s causing them a lot of problems in their life.

Some people may experience significant financial loss, relationship breakdowns, and homelessness.

Making a change

Challenging your thinking

According to Gambling Help Online, people who have a problem with gambling often share similar ways of thinking. They tend to believe they can control or predict the outcome of a bet. If you notice yourself having similar thoughts, it’s a good idea to challenge them and question how much evidence you have to support that way of thinking.

Managing urges to gamble

An urge is a strong impulse to do something and for many people experiencing gambling addiction, they can feel impossible to resist. It can be helpful to remember that if you can wait long enough, the urge will pass. It’s a good idea to prepare for urges by having some strategies in place. You can find out more about managing urges at Gambling Help Online.

Change strategies

Gambling Help Online suggest change strategies as a tool to help people limit their gambling. Some examples of change strategies include:

  • focusing on the negative consequences of gambling
  • reminding yourself that the gambling system is designed for you to lose
  • calculating the money and time spent gambling

You can find more change strategies at Gambling Help Online. You can also find information on maintaining change and managing your money.

Getting help

If you think you may be developing a problem with gambling and it’s starting to affect your work, school or home life, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

Talking to a counsellor

You talk to a professional counsellor for free through Gambling Help Online. It’s private and confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Seeing your GP

When you see your GP, they can assess you and refer you to a mental health professional if necessary. Certain types of psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help someone overcome a gambling addiction.

They can also put you on a Mental Health Plan which means that Medicare may subsidise up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional. You can find out more about mental health professionals at Healthdirect Australia.

Finding a gambling support service

There are also wide range of resources available for people affected by gambling in Australia.

You can find a service in your state at Gambling Help Online.

Getting help with debt

You can call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 for free financial counselling. It’s open Monday to Friday 9:30am – 4:30pm.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as professional and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified professional counsellor.

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