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Do you have a gambling problem? This new study will tell you.

What does it take for a gambling hobby to turn into a harmful addiction?

A team of researchers, led by S.R. Currie with the University of Calgary’s psychiatry department, sought out to obtain when this tipping point occurs.

The study, “Deriving Low-Risk Gambling Limits from Longitudinal Data Collected in Two Independent Canadian Studies”, incorporated a method developed by Currie and associates in 2006. It was applied to data from the Quinte Longitudinal Study and Leisure, Lifestyle, and Lifecycle Project, which are “two independently conducted cohort studies of the natural progression of gambling in Canadian adults,” stated the abstract.

Their research indicated the low-risk gambling cut-off was eight times per month, a total of $75 per month, and 1.7 per cent of income going towards gambling; these are all higher than previously derived limits from cross-sectional data.

Gamblers who surpassed any of these three limits “at Time 1 were approximately four times more likely to report harm at Time 2,” explained in the abstract.

Included in the study were 3,863 adults from Southeastern Ontario and Alberta who reported gambling in the last year. Half of these participants were male, and the median age was 44 years old.

In Canada, gambling is a $13 billion a year industry, and data from 2005 finds more than 75 per cent of Canadians gambled in that past year.

Most people are able to keep gambling under control, and it is when it interferes with personal life, work, finances, and physical and/or mental health that it becomes a problem, stated the university’s article.

Problem gambling is associated with detrimental consequences including bankruptcy, divorce, and suicide.

Perhaps why gambling can become so addicting is that it’s so easily accessible, in a multitude of ways, such as electronic gaming machines, online, playing the lottery, sports, and casinos. Problem gamblers tend to thrive off the thrill of a big win, while ignoring the impact of an even bigger loss.

Another recent study of 4,211 residents of southeastern Ontario between 2006 and 2010 found that problem gambling is having a negative affect on families over the short to medium term, but that its long-term effects were unclear.

With numbers on the rise, many Canadians engage in these activities, some of whom cross over from low-risk gambling, and such as the case with any addiction, there is a line separating innocent fun from harmful repercussions. What is increasingly worrisome to many is how early many gamblers are getting started.

“Gaming has become Canada’s largest entertainment industry, roughly the same as professional sports, movies, television and music combined,” noted a recent editorial in the Winnipeg Sun. “More alarming is the number of youth exposed to gambling at a young age. A recent report noted that 45% of teens played poker in the past year, and 18% of teens worry about their friends’ poker playing, with 15% feeling poker is a problem at their school. A report focusing on students in Grades 7 to 12 in Ontario showed 2.8% or 29,000 students reported having a gambling problem.”

The University of Calgary study was published in the Society for the Study of Addiction journal.

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