Online Gambling Addiction: A Growing Problem

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction specialist, counsellor, and rogue academic committed to making research engaging and accessible for all.

On the go? You can listen to the audio version of this article here:

Since the pandemic began, there has been an explosion of online gambling. With experts warning of this “ticking time bomb,” responsible gambling safeguards are sparse. 

According to a report by the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), one-third of persons who gamble online said the lockdowns influenced this decision. 

Although online gambling has been gaining popularity over the last two decades, the pandemic accelerated demand, leading to higher rates of riskier gambling.  

RGC’s report found online gambling is correlated with moderate and high-risk gambling. 

%

Overall high-risk gambling

%

High-risk gambling online

Due to the ease of access, the online platforms make it easier to use gambling as a way to cope with underlying issues such as anxiety and depression.

RGC’s survey found that anxiety and depression are major factors contributing to high-risk gambling. As shown below, persons with severe depression are almost five times more likely to engage in high-risk gambling. 

%

High-risk gambling with lower levels of depression

%

High-Risk gambling with severe depression

Typical depression symptoms such as low mood, apathy, and social isolation are a barrier to accessing in-person venues. With online gambling, persons with severe depression can maintain round the clock access to gambling while in the comfort of their own home.

RGC’s survey found that gambling to cope with depressed moods was a significant risk-factor for problematic gambling:

“…67.6% of those who gambled online because it helps when feeling nervous or depressed were high-risk gamblers. [They have] 7.4-times the risk of problematic gambling, relative to other gambling motives.” 

To give a personal face to the RGC statistics, I interviewed Kira who shared her experience of addiction and recovery from online gambling addiction.

Kira’s Story of Online Gambling Addiction

When she turned eighteen, Kira started going to bingo events with friends. Grieving the loss of her aunt’s passing, gambling allowed her to get out of the house and take her mind off the grief.

What started as a source of entertainment turned into a way to escape. Turning to online slots, she could gamble on her phone whenever she wished. Over time, she accumulated debt, locking her into the downward spiral of trying to win back the money she had spent.

Isolating herself, lacking self-care, hygiene, and motivation, she went through seven different jobs, unable to feel settled. Coping with depression, she fell deeper into online gambling to avoid the painful reality.

“I was able to isolate at home. I had the freedom to just pick up my phone and there I was logged in depositing money. I wouldn’t have had the energy or courage to get showered, dressed and walked to the casino.”

Kira gambled alone, losing herself in the glow of her phone. She was withdrawn, often disappearing into the bathroom or her bedroom to gamble.

Spending so much time isolating herself with her phone, her partner began to accuse her of cheating. Although he knew she gambled, he did not know she had lost control and was accumulating debt. 

Her gambling escalated when she had her son in May 2020. Due to COVID-19, she was laid off from work, receiving a lump sum of money from her employer, in addition to a sum of money for her maternity benefits. 

The pandemic, a newborn, and a chunk of money in her bank account was a recipe for disaster. With her son sleeping on her chest, Kira laid awake with anticipation as the colors and lights flashed on her phone, hinting at her next win. 

Spending all of the extra money before her son turned two months, she was forced to find work. 

At this point, Kira made her first suicide attempt by overdosing on anti-depressants and painkillers. Throughout the next six months, she attempted suicide two more times this way, preparing a list of her creditors for someone to call saying she’d passed.

After her second suicide attempt in the Fall, Kira finally admitted she had an issue and told her partner. Although she wanted to stop, she found herself continuing to gamble, spending all of the money she saved for her son and partner’s Christmas presents.

Tired of living in a state of constant anxiety and seeing the look of despair on her partner’s face, she decided to face the issue head-on and stop gambling before she lost everything, including her life. 

Finding an online Facebook group for persons recovering from gambling addiction, Kira gained the type of support she needed, crediting the online group for her past seven months of abstinence from gambling. 

“Luckily for me, I got out before it ruined my life, but I have met and know so many people it has destroyed, and they have lost everything.”

Gambling to cope with underlying pain results in short-term relief at a long-term cost. Like substances, this addiction can have profound effects on the lives of users. Unlike substances, online gambling addiction is largely invisible, allowing around-the-clock instant access. 

If you want to reach out to Kira, you can contact her on Facebook here.

Risky Gambling Motivations

RGC’s survey indicated several risky gambling motivations. I have created the following infographic to depict some of these risky motivations. If you want to read their full report, you can check it out here

Learn More About Gambling Addiction 

How does gambling addiction work?

Gambling addiction works by hijacking the brain’s learning mechanism through random rewards. To learn more, check out my article: How Does Gambling Addiction Work.

How do you stop gambling?

1) Let go of common gambling fallacies
2) Decide if gambling is really worth it
3) Self-exclude or use a gambling blocker
4) Replace gambling with other activities
5) Identify your gambling triggers
6) Uncover what’s driving your gambling
7) Seek gambling-specific counseling

To learn more, check out my article: 7 Ways to Stop Gambling and Save Money

When does something become an addiction?

Something becomes an addiction if it begins to have significant harmful impacts on other areas of your life. To learn more, see my article: When Does Something Become an Addiction

How do you prevent a gambling addiction?

Preventing a gambling addiction requires playing for entertainment rather than using it to make money:

1) Set a money limit before gambling
2) Set a time limit on your gambling
3) Play for entertainment rather than making money
4) Understand how the games work.

To learn more, check out my article: How to Prevent a Gambling Addiction

Have a question?

Ask Steve

Steve Rose, PhD, is a Certified Gambling Counsellor (CCPC Global) and Problem Gambling Prevention Specialist. 

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Want to Try Online Counseling?

Here are a few options worth checking out:

BetterHelp.com is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

It’s almost like having a counselor in your pocket, since you can text, voice-message, or set up video calls whenever you need support. 

For persons struggling with anxious thoughts, depressed moods, low self-esteem, low motivation, or loneliness, check out Better Help here.

Online-therapy.com also offers support for persons looking to optimize their mental toolbox. Click here to learn more about their program based on the evidence-based practice of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT).

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help and Online-therapy.com, I may receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

If you are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here. Although prices are generally higher on this directory, many of the practitioners accept insurance. 

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


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