What is problem gambling?

Powerless Over Gambling

There are between 75,000 and 120,000 excessive gamblers (dependent gamblers + risk gamblers) in Canada. The estimate varies according to the diagnostic tool. Approximately 30,000 people, or 0.5% of the population, engage in pathological gambling behaviour. These estimates are based on 2019 and 2021 data from the Health Survey of Canada. The proportion of problem gamblers in the population is comparable to that observed in other countries. However, it should be noted that excessive gambling has important social consequences and affects the gambler’s entourage to a greater extent.

Pathological gambling (gambling addiction) has been recognised as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation since the 1990s. The DSM 5 (the world’s reference work on psychiatric disorders) classifies this addiction in the addictive disorders section, in the same way as alcohol or drugs.

In Canada, excessive gamblers enter treatment about 5 years after the start of their gambling problems, the financial, and social, and health consequences are very important.

The consequences of excessive gambling in Canada

Financial consequences:

Financial problems (indebtedness and over-indebtedness) are the primary cause of help-seeking by problem gamblers. Loss of money is characterised by debts, unpaid bills, multiple credits. The average debt of gamblers in treatment is C$257,000, the median is C$40,000. 17% of problem gamblers have filed for personal bankruptcy.

Social costs of pathological gambling in Canada:

The economic research institute estimates that excessive gambling costs the community between 551 and 648 million Canadian dollars each year in the form of additional health costs, unrealized production, and loss of health-related quality of life.

Marital and extra-familial consequences:

Marital and family conflicts, lies, verbal/physical violence, separation, or divorce are all inherent to excessive gambling. Almost a quarter of the gamblers who seek help are divorced or separated. For almost half of the divorced problem gamblers, gambling is partly responsible for the separation or divorce.

Social consequences:

Isolation and insecurity are also frequent consequences of excessive gambling. Social isolation due to borrowing from friends and relatives is generated by a certain shame. Gambling problems usually remain hidden. In Canada, pathological gamblers seek support approximately 5 years after the start of their gambling problems.

Health consequences:

Depression – stress – shame – guilt – despair – suicidal thoughts with or without acting out. More than a third of the requests for help related to excessive gambling is associated with suicidal thoughts at the time of the first consultation. Data from the survey of counselling centres show a very high proportion of 21% of people with suicidal tendencies. Other problems such as eating disorders, work addiction, sleep disorders or excessive use of prostitutes are also mentioned.


Almost three-quarters of the gamblers who consulted had another addictive problem: tobacco: 60%, alcohol: 40%, drugs: 4%. Among young people, there is a statistically significant association between being a risk/problem gambler and problematic Internet use, as well as the use of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and other illegal drugs.

Occupational consequences:

Lateness – absenteeism – irritability – lack of concentration – dismissal. 18% of gamblers who seek help are unemployed, a much higher proportion than in the general population (3%).

Legal consequences:

Illegal activities: theft – embezzlement – criminal or civil consequences. 15% of the gamblers who consult are subject to criminal proceedings for breach of trust, embezzlement, fraud, or theft of money with breaking and entering.