Every time I watched a sports game, I felt the urge to gamble on that game. I couldn't watch a sports game in a relaxed way anymore.


Did you know this?

Playing for money is prohibited under the age of 18. To have access to casinos and slot machines you have to be 21. However, more than one in five young people have already played a game of chance or played for money at least once. Online gambling is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people. Men gamble more than women, betting mainly on sports events. Women gamble mainly via scratch cards. For 2% of the population gambling leads to problematic behaviour. They neglect things like studies, personal hygiene and friendships. This phenomenon occurs most often in men. Only 14% of gamblers who face such problems seek help.

Why young people like to gamble

Gambling can be done at any time of day. Gambling games are widely advertised - in all kinds of media and especially on the Internet. Young people are the main target group.

There are several reasons why young people are attracted to gambling:

  • Gambling is exciting and exhilarating. Every gambler plays to win. Winning results in a sense euphoria by stimulating the reward system in your brain. Gambling can thus induce an intoxicated feeling similar to that caused by alcohol or other drugs. The more is at stake, the more exciting the gamble.
  • Gambling makes you dream about possible wealth. In some games, such as the lottery, dreaming about possibly getting rich often proves more important than the game itself. Gambling gives people the hope of making money quickly and easily.
  • Gambling allows you to escape reality for a while. You become absorbed in the game and forget everything around you. Gambling is a way to escape unpleasant emotions or difficult situations.
  • Gambling gives a sense of belonging. It is more common in some environments than others. Young people sometimes gamble to fit in with a group. Often, gambling habits are also passed down by family members.

When does gambling become problematic?

In itself, gambling need not be problematic. But the thrill of winning or losing also makes gambling risky. You become completely engrossed in the game, leaving you with no control over your playing behaviour. The longer and more often you play, the greater the risks.

Online gambling carries additional risks:

  • It is available 24/7 and you don't have to leave your house. You can therefore play without limitation and without any form of social control.
  • You can easily lose track of time online, which means you can spend hours playing without realising it. You are also less conscious of the money you are spending.

We speak of risky or problematic behaviour when, as a gambler, you neglect things like your studies, your personal hygiene or social contacts.

Problematic gambling behaviour is distinct from a gambling addiction. Symptoms that may indicate that you have a gambling disorder include:

  • You gamble with more and more money to achieve the desired level of excitement.
  • You often gamble when you feel gloomy, or experience feelings of helplessness and guilt.
  • Gambling is always on your mind. You constantly think about previous gambling experiences and are always preparing for your next gambling activity.
  • You become restless and irritable when trying to reduce or stop gambling.
  • You minimise or deny the issue towards yourself, and also lie to others about your gambling behaviour.
  • You struggle to stick to agreements about your gambling behaviour. Attempts to stop gambling fail.
  • After losing money through gambling, you gamble again to regain your loss.
  • Your gambling puts pressure on your friends, family, studies and financial situation.
  • You become financially dependent on others in an attempt to alleviate your unhealthy financial situation.

A gambling disorder develops over the years, with the gambling pattern gradually increasing in terms of frequency, stakes and risks. People with problematic gambling behaviour also generally develop mistaken beliefs about how the game works and about their chances of winning. Based on these beliefs, they also elaborate certain ‘strategies’, which, however, have no impact on the outcome at all.

The constant preoccupation with gambling, ‘arranging’ money, making excuses and shielding oneself can lead to financial, social and emotional problems. Anxiety, stress, nervousness, distrust, fears and depressive symptoms often arise. In addition, an unhealthy lifestyle often develops with physical complaints such as sleep problems, headaches, heart problems, back pain and gastrointestinal problems. A gambling disorder is often associated with impulsivity and substance abuse.

Safe gambling

If you have problems gambling there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Set yourself a time limit. Determine how much time you are willing to waste. When that time is up, stop. Use the timer on your mobile phone to keep track of time.
  • Set yourself a spending limit. Before you start playing, determine the amount of money you are willing to forfeit/lose. If you lose this money, stop playing. If you win, take advantage of it, but remember that this is more of an exception.
  • Never borrow money to gamble, not even from friends or family.
  • Gamble only with money you can afford to lose. Never touch money earmarked for important expenses, such as groceries, leisure, transportation, textbooks, subscriptions etc.
  • Don't play when you are sad or angry. It's hard to keep your head clear when you're not feeling well.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your gambling problem.
  • If the gambling gets really out of hand, you can have yourself banned from gambling halls, casinos or gambling websites. This can be arranged through the Gaming Commission. The steps you need to take depend on the severity of your gambling problem and whether or not you want to stop completely.

Online gambling is easier than ever. When I'm bored for a second and I don't know what to do, I switch to my mobile phone. It's quite addictive.


Talk about it

Do you gamble regularly and does it affect your other activities? Many people are ashamed and look for excuses for their gambling behaviour. But gambling is nothing to be ashamed of. Try to start the conversation. Talk to somebody you trust and feel comfortable with. This can be a relief and help you get things straight (possibly together). You can also seek help together.

If you struggle to talk to someone in your close surroundings, try to approach a person who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student advisor at your college or university. Call the freephone SOS Games 0800 35 777 to ask all your questions about gambling addiction, 24/7.

Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always call on Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or teleonthaal.be). For questions about suicide or dark thoughts, contact the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be).

How to tackle gambling problems

Do you gamble regularly and do you want to find out if your gambling behaviour is becoming risky? Or maybe you want to stop or reduce your gambling? Then you can find help in online programmes. At Gok Hulp you can find all the information you need about gambling, including self-tests, self-help modules and online counselling.

Seek help

Changing your gambling behaviour is often difficult. Do you feel you cannot cope all by yourself? Then reach out for professional help. You can go to a counsellor who specialises in addiction. More information can be obtained anonymously from Druglijn or directly from your GP.

Multiple types of assistance and help are available, yet there is no single magical method that will solve all your problems at once. Practically all types of help have a couple of workable elements in common, such as:

- learning to recognise risk signals

- increasing your motivation to stop, to change your gambling behaviour or to integrate gambling safely into your life

- enhancing your self-confidence, for example by emphasising your abilities and skills

Worried about a friend?

Have you noticed that a friend is spending too much time gambling, which is interfering with their normal life? If so, you may not know what to say or do. Talk about it and share your concerns. Try to be understanding and listen to their story without judging them.

Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?



  • Gok Hulp allows you to work independently or with a coach to limit or stop your gambling. The site also features a self-test. (Dutch only)
  • Druglijn enables you to ask any questions you may have about alcohol, drugs, pills, gaming and gambling. Self-tests and self-help modules are also available here.

TED talks and videos


  • VAD (Vlaams Expertisecentrum Alcohol en andere drugs) is the Flemish expertise centre for alcohol and other drugs. Here you can find relevant info on alcohol, illegal drugs, psychoactive drugs, gaming and gambling. VAD has developed a self-help booklet on gambling and a Factsheet on gambling. (Dutch only)
  • Gokkliniek, the gambling clinic, is the place to be for assistance, support and useful information