Gambling is a fun and exciting activity that has been practised for thousands of years. Players get to wager their money on different outcomes and stand a chance to win extra bucks. But for so many people, gambling has gone beyond a game of thrills and excitement. The possibility of cashing out big has gotten some hooked to the cards and dice of the casino tables. Sooner or later, they’re unable to control their gambling habits and a game that was once a harmless fun activity becomes a dangerous obsession. At this point, signs of gambling addiction become very obvious.
What is a Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction or Ludomania is an impulse control disorder, in which a person continues to gamble even when it negatively affects them and the people around them. The symptoms of gambling addiction vary from person to person and depend on the type of gambling venture. For compulsive gamblers, gambling starts out as an entertaining activity, but quickly turns into a problem, especially after a big win. Contrary to popular belief, not all addicts lose the ability to control the gambling impulse. Some gamblers can decide when and when not to gamble, however, if this disrupts normal daily activities, then it is gambling addiction.
Common Types of Gambling Addiction
When someone is unable to control their desire or urge to gamble, they are referred to as a compulsive gambler. Compulsive gambling or pathological gambling pushes the limits. For compulsive gamblers, it is an irresistible act. A compulsive gambler will gamble regardless of the negative effects of their actions on them, their loved ones, their finances, and their daily lives. They are ready to make huge wagers even when they know they can’t afford to lose.
A binge gambler is more like a compulsive gambler under control. They are able to go for weeks or even months without showing any symptoms of gambling addiction. However, their compulsive gambling behaviours pop out of nowhere when they decide to start betting. At this point, it is almost impossible to stop them or for them to stop themselves.
When someone finds themselves thinking about betting most of the time or loss-chasing, they are considered problem gamblers. Though they might try to stop the urge to gamble, they usually forgo their responsibilities to indulge in gambling. In the end, their betting habits disrupt their normal lives, affecting their loved ones and themselves.
Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, the physical signs or symptoms of gambling addiction are somewhat subtle. This means, without much attention drawn to them, many gamblers would continue gambling till they lose their jobs and start experiencing financial problems or worse. For problem gamblers and binge gamblers, the signs might be next to inexistent.
However, if someone experiences or shows the following symptoms listed below, then they have a gambling addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), someone must show at least 4 of these symptoms within a 12-month period to be considered a gambling addict.
- Uneasiness and agitation when trying to stop or control gambling habits
- Repeatedly failing when trying to control, reduce, or stop gambling
- Frequently preoccupied with thoughts about gambling and making plans towards the next bet
- Gambling for emotional validation such as when distressed, depressed, anxious, or feeling guilt.
- Often trying to win back money lost to gambling by gambling more (commonly referring to as “chasing losses”)
- Covering up gambling activities from friends and loved ones either by lying or keeping them uninformed.
- Experiencing problems or losses in relationships, job, or career due to gambling
- Requesting for money from others to gamble
While these symptoms could tell if you have gambling addiction or not, they should not replace a medical diagnosis. If you have experienced at least four of these symptoms, you should seek out a medical practitioner, preferably, a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist. The professional would be able to determine if you’re addicted to gambling or you’re simply experiencing symptoms of another mental health condition. Many individuals with gambling addiction usually suffer from other disorders such as depressive disorders, substance use disorders, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.
Causes of Gambling Addiction
The exact causes of gambling are yet unknown, however, there are several factors that could contribute to gambling addiction. They include stern desperation for money, mental health conditions, and massive first wins.
One major cause of betting addiction, especially problem gambling, is how the brain reacts to betting. Scientific researches have shown that the brain reacts to a gambling win (produces a neurological response) in a similar manner as to when a cocaine addict takes a dose of the drug. Deficiencies in serotonin (the feel-good chemical) and norepinephrine (neurotransmitter and stress hormone) have also been linked to compulsive gambling. Other biological causes can be found in the gene. This means that a certain group of individuals may be genetically predisposed to develop addiction disorders.
An individual’s perception of gambling may play a part in whether the person would develop a gambling problem or not. Loss-chasing, which is a symptom of gambling, is one major factor that can lead to gambling addiction itself. While the gambler continues to hold on to hope on the next bet, at the same time being in denial about the effects of their gambling habits, they go even deeper down the rabbit hole. People with gambling addiction often have a distorted view of gambling. They are usually very optimistic even as they continue to lose.
Also, the excitement and possibility of winning as many times as possible on a slot machine can make an individual prone to problem gambling. This mostly affects face-paced gamblers who prefer slot machines or any fast-paced game to the lottery.
Furthermore, there are individuals that get hooked just after their first win. This is often common when the first win is massive or covers the losses incurred in their previous bets. These individuals are more likely to get addicted when they continue to place bets with the hope of another massive win. In some cases, they try to win twice as much by doubling their winning bet.
Stress, job loss, depression, and desperation for money are some triggers for compulsive gambling. Gambling addictions, though not genetic, can be passed on from older members of the family to the younger ones. This could be via influence or by direct teaching.
Social factors like the availability of gambling options and/or having friends that bet frequently could trigger gambling addiction.
Though not likely to cause gambling addiction, the use of certain medications could trigger the problem. For example, dopamine agonists and antipsychotic medications have been linked to an increased chance of gambling addiction.
Recognizing Gambling Addiction
For most persons with gambling addiction, they never notice the problem until it is too late. This is usually when they run into huge financial debt, lose their jobs, or worse, the law catches up with them when they indulge in criminal behaviours just to get money to gamble.
Fortunately, there are signs of gambling addiction that appear before this stage, so you can easily tell if you have a gambling addiction and need to go for a check-up.
If you notice any of the gambling addiction symptoms listed above, the first step is to recognize and accept that you have a problem. A lot of people with gambling addiction live in denial that they are addicted even with glaring signs. If you feel like you’re getting addicted to visiting online betting sites to wager or your family members show concern about your gambling habits or change in behaviour, then you should get help.
Sometimes, gamblers rationalize the issues surrounding their gambling addiction to mask the problem and make it seem that they are in control. While this is not possible with compulsive gamblers, problem gamblers are often able to make it so. This only prolongs the problem making it more difficult to pull back.
Self-help Strategies for Gambling Problems
Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step, working towards overcoming the addiction is the next. There are self-help strategies that you could apply to help you overcome your gambling addiction and remain free for the rest of your life. These strategies include:
- Engage in other activities that give you the thrills and excitement you would get from gambling. These should be activities you actually enjoy. Maybe football, video games or movies.
- If you gamble as a way to relieve stress or unpleasant activities, then you need to seek other healthier and better ways to manage your feelings and relieve boredom.
- For some, gambling is a way to socialize and meet new people, but so is exercising, joining a club, or buying a ticket to watch a game.
- Get Support. Battling gambling addiction can be tough as with battling any other addiction, however, it is even more difficult when you’re doing on your own. With a support network consisting of your family and friends, it could be much easier.
- Redirect Your Activities. People with gambling addiction usually have a lifestyle that makes them relapse no matter how hard they fight to quit. They could have friends that gamble or set aside specific times in the day to gamble. By making new friends and engaging in other daily activities during your free time, you can actually turn your attention away from gambling to better things. For places to meet new friends, you could try reaching out to your colleagues at school or work, joining a book club, sports team, or NGO. For activities, you can try writing a book (and make money as a self-publisher), learn a musical instrument, travel, or learn programming.
- Join a peer support group. Peer support groups are a gathering of individuals with a certain mental condition such as gambling addiction. In this group, you’ll meet people who have gone through and overcame gambling addiction and you can learn how to do the same. For example, Gambler Anonymous offers a twelve-step recovery program for individuals that want to break free of gambling addiction.
Treatment for Gambling Addiction
Quitting gambling is not easy, but it is not impossible either. There are many forms of treatment available for compulsive and problem gamblers. However, there is no official treatment for gambling addiction. But the following methods can come in handy:
Over the years, psychotherapy has been very effective in treating gambling problems and even helping with relapses. With the help of a well-trained psychiatrist or therapist, counselling could effectively help in improving gambling habits and behaviours. This approach would be most successful if the individual has another psychiatric problem that triggers the urge to gamble. A professional would help treat both conditions.
There are certain medications that could reduce the constant desire to visit an online betting site or take a seat in front of a slot machine in a land-based casino. Medications like antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs have shown promise in handling gambling addiction.
Prevalence of Gambling Addiction
Since most of the official records of people with gambling addiction come from self-reporting by gamblers, it is difficult to say exactly how many people are suffering from the problem.
In the USA, individuals with problem gambling are said to be between 2 – 3% of the population. Those with gambling addiction are even fewer, making up for 1% or less of the population. These figures spike in areas such as Nevada where gambling is like a rite of passage in their culture.
In the UK, however, the numbers seem to be a little higher. According to a survey by YouGov, up to 2.7% of the adults in the UK which make up for 1.4 million people have a problem with gambling. However, these figures are merely an estimate. The official figures still remain at 0.7% as cited by the UK Gambling Commission.
Among these figures, men take the highest stake. That is to say, men are more likely to have a problem with gambling or become gambling addicts than women.
While treatments for gambling addiction exist, it is troubling that many don’t seek treatment or join organizations that will help them. Some may overcome their gambling habits through changes in their lifestyle, behaviour, and support from family and friends, many more, however, continue to indulge in their habits, losing years and even decades of their lives to gambling without making an effort to seek help.
Effects of Gambling Addiction
There are several short-term and long-term negative effects that result from gambling addiction. Some of these effects are obvious, while others may require a closer look to see.
Individuals with gambling addiction often get caught up in deep financial crises. They can accrue large debts and even go as far as gambling away their home and other assets. For compulsive gamblers, it’s not just their finances that is at stake but also that of their family, friends, and colleagues. They may even stake away their jobs or investors’ funds which could result in legal issues and probably jail time.
Mental and psychological issues usually arise from constant betting. This is because the disorder disrupts the individual’s thinking and way of life. This could result in strained relationships and more social problems. Gambling addiction could result in other mental problems like depression, anxiety, and suicide.
For a compulsive gambler, it is not only them that suffer, but their families too. According to research, children whose parents are problem gamblers may suffer from child abuse and/or other forms of domestic violence. They are also more likely to develop other addictions and mental health conditions later in life.
How To Help Someone With Gambling Problems Or Addiction
Since the signs of gambling addiction can be masked, especially in problem gamblers, even family members may not easily notice their loved one has a gambling addiction until they are far gone. Here are signs you should look out for that will tell you if something is wrong.
- Lying about their gambling habits
- Spending more time thinking about gambling, planning wagers than they do building their relationships
- Suggesting or outrightly saying they have a gambling problem
- Borrowing money more often or selling more of their items for unknown reasons (if the person has a history of gambling or gambles frequently, then this sign should be taken seriously).
- Spending more time and more money gambling
- Spends more on gambling even while having unpaid bills
These signs show that there is a problem. Once you realize that your friend or loved one has a problem, it is important that you don’t judge them or ridicule them because of their gambling problem. Also, threatening them does not make them stop instead it makes them hide their problems from you.
Once you notice these signs, the first and most important step is to educate yourself. You must show support to help them get over their gambling addiction and avoid assisting them by paying off their debts or offering financial assistance. To help, take part in their treatment process and link them with a financial service that could help them settle their debts.
Helping Someone with a Gambling Addiction Seek Treatment
Helping a friend or family member with a gambling addiction to seek treatment is often difficult except they want to do it themselves but lack the resources to do so. In some cases, speaking to the person about how gambling has affected their life and those around them could help convince them to seek treatment.
To be successful, you should be positive and loving while being concerned about their new-found behaviour. Getting more family members and close friends to occasionally confront the gambler could prove to be effective.
Sometimes, the best way to help a problem gambler to seek treatment is to speak to a professional first. You could use helplines from professional organizations to seek guidance from professionals that will give you the right advice on how to handle a loved one with a gambling problem. An example of such organizations is the National Problem Gambling Network (800-522-4700).
Stopping Suicide In People With Gambling Addiction
Suicide is more common among compulsive gamblers. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or you notice that a loved one is feeling depressed and constantly withdraws from hangouts or meetings, you should seek help by calling the suicidal helpline. Below are the helplines of national organizations on suicide prevention in different countries.
- UK – Samaritans UK (+ 44 (0) 20 8394 8300)
- USA – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
- Canada – Canada Suicide Prevention Suicide (1.833.456.4566)
- Australia – Lifeline Australia (13 11 14)
Gambling Addiction Resources
If you’re seeking help for gambling addiction, there are plenty of organizations that would be happy to help. These organizations offer treatment ranging from group meetings with people with a similar condition, psychotherapy, counselling, and in some cases, advanced treatment programs that may involve the use of medication. While there are many organizations to go for, here are some of the most trusted resources helping to get every problem and compulsive gambler off the casino.
- Addiction Center: (http://www.addictioncenter.com) – Founded in 2014, Addiction Center has provided assistance and guidance to individuals suffering from mental disorders including gambling addiction. The organization is owned by Recovery Worldwide. Addiction Center acts as the middleman between problem gamblers and treatment solutions. They work with well-recognized treatment centres to provide treatment solutions including rehab placement, counselling, and financial solutions for those seeing help.
- Gamblers Anonymous: (http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga) – Gamblers Anonymous is one of the oldest resources dedicated to helping problem gamblers get the help that they need. Since it was founded in 1957, the organization, through its local groups, has continued to provide all-round assistance for gamblers and their families.
- The National Council on Problem Gambling: (http//www.ncpgambling.org) – Founded in 1972 by Joseph Dunne, Robert Custer and Irving Sacher, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has grown to become a major advocate for problem gamblers and concentrate solemnly on helping addicts defeat the ugly claws of gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) also provides informational guides that will help individuals with gambling addiction get treatment. NCPG neither sides nor stands against gambling activities.
- Responsible Gambling Council (https://www.responsiblegambling.org) – For gamblers or those close to them seeking help and resources, they can reach out to Responsible Gambling Council. They are an organization dedicated to reducing the risks of gambling addiction through awareness, innovation and discovery. Reach out to them on +1 (416) 499-9800.
- GamCare (http://www.gamcare.org.uk/) – GamCare is a charity organization offering counselling, guidance and resources to individuals with gambling addiction in the UK. Those in the UK seeking help can reach them on their helpline 0808 8020 133
- Samaritans (http://www.samaritans.org) – Samaritans is a charity organization that provides help, guidance, and treatment for those with gambling addiction in the UK. Samaritans also offer a helpline on (+ 44 (0) 20 8394 8300)