17 February 2020
Back to the articles

Why Do We Become Addicted To Gambling?

Developing an addiction to gambling is far from being anecdotic. The problem gradually and insidiously sets in and evolves over time. Even if for most people, gambling starts as mere entertainment, and a source of enjoyment, for some, emotions will take control over rationality. When you start believing that you are able to develop strategies to «beat the system», you are likely to lose control and spend substantial amounts of money. In fact, the feeling of exhilaration you get after winning or losing, pushes you to gamble more. Because the origins of loss of control are multiple and still poorly known, they are hard to foresee. Gambling is an addiction that develops more or less quickly. In fact, when you develop such an addiction, your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, motivation and behaviours are all transformed. This transformation is influenced by a series of interrelated factors. Read the following, you might recognize yourself.

  1. Environmental factor: This factor is the basis of developing a gambling addiction. Gambling has become easy thanks to growing supply and wider access to it. For example, having a casino or gaming hall near you, significantly increases the opportunities to gamble. As well, many bars, restaurants and local breweries have video lottery terminals and the majority of dépanneurs and grocery stores have a lottery ticket terminal. This increased presence creates an environment in which gambling is socially acceptable, encouraged and even promoted.
  2. Learning factor: If you watch others gamble you learn by imitation. Whether it is through your parents, friends or partner, your initiation to gambling is rarely done with safeguards. In fact, due to a lack of preventative information, you can quickly become influenced by another gambler’s erroneous talk. In addition, being exposed to these games, especially video lottery terminals and slot machines, you are faced with another type of learning: conditioning. The payoffs from gambling contribute to developing erroneous thoughts, which in turn, modify your perception, and your gambling experience is thus affected by conditioning.
  3. Psychological factor: Repressed emotions, un-met needs, childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, low tolerance to boredom and difficulties resolving and managing problems are all emotional and psychological factors. Traumatic events such as psychological and physical abuse along with stressful family and environmental situations are often responsible for these states of mind. Throughout your life, have you experienced any situations that could affect your emotional well-being? Talk to someone!
  4. Biological factor: Biochemically speaking, the stimulation of dopamine, serotonin or noradrenaline done by gambling, predispose towards addiction. Are you impulsive, have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, have an anti-social personality or have substance abuse problems? You may be more vulnerable to developing a gambling addiction. Think twice before you start!
  5. Habit factor: Is gambling now part of your routine? For a while now, has gambling been part of your schedule and an instinctive reaction, to the point of not even needing to think about what else you enjoy doing?
  6. Chase factor: This element appears later in the development of an addiction. Over time, you have or could become trapped in the pitfall of wanting to «chase» your losses and win your money back. You find yourself within a mechanism of damage control. You feel the urgency of repairing or erasing the consequences of your gambling. Unfortunately, the more you try to recoup your losses, the deeper you find yourself in problematic behaviours related to gambling.

No one is safe from developing an addiction

A profile of a «typical» excessive gambler does not exist. This problem either can directly or indirectly, affect people of all ages and all social class. In fact, a gambling addiction can also cause problems for people around the gambler. As such, did you know that an excessive gambler’s problems could have negative repercussions on 10 or more people in his immediate entourage, like family, colleague, friends or employers? To learn more about the consequences of gambling, consult the Serious Impacts on the Gambler and His/Her Loved Ones article. Have you developed a gambling addiction and are now in the awareness phase? Have you realised that your behaviours have had negative effects on the people around you? There is help for you and solutions for your loved ones. Find an attentive ear and learn about the available resources in your area.


Politzer, Robert C., Charles E. Yesalis, and Clark J. Hudak. « The Epidemiologic Model and the Risk of Legalized Gambling: Where are we headed? », Health values 16 (1992), 20-27.

Read more articles