For many people, gambling is harmless fun; however, in some cases, it can become a problem, substantially impacting someone’s life. This type of compulsive behavior is often called “problem gambling.”
A gambling addiction is typically a progressive addiction that can have many negative psychological, physical, and social repercussions. It is classed as an impulse-control disorder.
Problem gambling is harmful to psychological and physical health. People dealing with this addiction can suffer from depression, migraine, distress, intestinal disorders, and other anxiety-related problems.
Like any other addiction, some people become so despondent as a result of the consequences of their addiction, that they may attempt or commit suicide.
The rate of problem gambling has risen globally over the last few years. In the United States in 2012, there were an estimated 5.77 million people with a gambling disorder that needed treatment.
Because of its harmful consequences, gambling addiction has become a significant public health concern in many countries.
Symptoms of a gambling addiction
Some of the signs and symptoms of problem gambling include:
- Craving for gaming.
- Feelings of remorse after gambling.
- Resorting to theft or fraud to obtain money to gamble.
- Gambler feels the need to bet more money more frequently.
- In spite of escalating losses, the person continues to gamble believing they will recuperate losses.
- Increasing financial debt (using income and savings for gambling, borrowing money, resort to gambling to meet financial obligations).
- Loss of control.
- Loss of sleep.
- Person persists in gambling behavior in spite of growing, severe, negative consequences.
- Repetitive unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling.
- Rising obsession with gambling.
- Stress related problems (migraines, intestinal disorders).
- When attempting to refrain from gambling, the person becomes restless or irritable.
Gambling is not a financial problem, but an emotional problem that has financial consequences. It also impacts the way in which the person with the disorder relates to his or her family and friends. For instance, they may miss important events in the family, or might miss work.
If someone is asking themselves whether they are addicted, the most important question to ask is “can I stop if I want to?” If the answer is “no,” it is important to seek help.
What can trigger problem gambling?
Anyone who gambles can develop problems. Similar to other forms of addiction, no one can predict who will develop an addiction to gambling. Gambling becomes a problem when behavior interferes with finances, relationships, and the workplace. Often, gamblers do not realize they have a problem for some time.
Many people who develop a gambling addiction are considered responsible and dependable people. Often, there may be factors that lead to a change in behavior, such as retirement, traumatic circumstances, or job related stress.
In general, it has been established that people with one addiction are more at risk of developing another. Some problem gamblers may also have a problem with alcohol or drugs. They seem to have a predisposition for addiction. Secondary addictions can also occur in an effort to reduce the negative feelings created by the gambling addiction. However, some problem gamblers never experience any other addiction.
Some people may be more at risk than others:
- People with depression, anxiety conditions, or personality disorders.
- Addicts of other things e.g. drugs, alcohol.
- Dopamine agonists – drugs used to treat Parkinson’s and restless leg syndrome can increase the risk of a gambling addiction.
- Antipsychotic medications – some antipsychotic medications have been linked to increase in gambling.
- Age – gambling addictions are more common in younger and middle-aged people.
- Sex – men are more at risk than women.
- Friends and family – if close friends or family members are addicted, the risk increases.
The gambling addiction
For someone with a gambling addiction, the feeling of gambling is equivalent to taking a drug, or having a drink. Gambling behavior alters the person’s mood and state of mind. The gambler is hooked and keeps repeating the behavior, attempting to achieve that same effect.
In other addictions, alcohol, for instance, the person starts developing a tolerance. An increasing amount of alcohol is necessary for the same “buzz.”
In the same way, a gambler’s needs escalate; they need to gamble more to get the same “high.” In some instances they “chase” their losses, thinking that if they continue to engage in gambling, they will win back lost money.
The gambler becomes trapped in a vicious circle where there is an increased craving for the activity. At the same time, the ability to resist drops.
The craving grows in intensity and frequency and their ability to control the urge is weakened.
The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. Some problem gamblers may only go on periodic gambling binges. However, regardless of the rate of recurrence to the addictive activity, the emotional and financial consequences will be obvious.
Problem gambling can cause disruptions in any part of the gambler’s life (psychological, personal, physical, social, or professional).
The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of the individual’s life.
Treating a gambling addiction
In general, treatment is split into three types:
- Therapy – this could be behavior therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Behavior therapy helps an individual reduce the urge to gamble by systematically exposing them to the behaviour. CBT helps change the way in which the individual feels and thinks about gambling.
- Medications – mood stabilizers and antidepressants can help reduce symptoms and illnesses that sometimes appear with gambling addictions. Some antidepressants may reduce the gambling urge, too. Narcotic antagonists – drugs used to treat drug addictions – may help some compulsive gamblers.
- Self-help groups – some find speaking with others in similar situations to be very helpful indeed.
Types of gambling and problem gambling
Casinos and lotteries provide the opportunity to gamble. The cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s failure to control the compulsive behavior.
Any type of gambling (racing, bingo, card games, dice games, lottery, slots, and sports betting) can become problematic. However, some types of gambling have particular characteristics that may intensify gambling problems.
Reports indicate that a significant risk factor may be a fast speed of play. Types of games where there is a short time between placing a bet and seeing the results present a higher risk for players; slot machines, for instance.
Gambling is a widespread problem
Problem gambling is widespread and on the rise. Increased accessibility to gambling calls for greater awareness and appropriate legislation.
Anyone who provides gambling services has a responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and gambling addictions. Research, treatment, and prevention of problem gambling should be generally encouraged.
Recognizing a gambling addiction and getting help
If a person suspects they might have a gambling problem, there are a variety of self-tests available on the internet. However, those will not give a diagnosis and do not replace a face-to-face evaluation with a trained clinical professional; but they can help people decide whether to seek formal evaluation of their gambling behavior.
After a detailed assessment, an adequate treatment plan is adapted for the problem gambler. Treatment will be based on a complete evaluation of the problem, and respond to each individual’s specific needs. Treatment and assistance includes all areas of the individual’s life (family, educational, financial, legal, and professional).
Anyone who suspects that they have a gambling addiction should seek help, as there is plenty of help available for gambling addiction.
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