Do you, or does someone you love enjoy playing lotto, buying lottery tickets or visiting the casino on a regular basis? Has your desire to gamble ever resulted in your spending money that you really didn’t have to spend, getting in trouble or had negative effects on your relationships with friends or loved ones? Frequent gambling could be a sign of a gambling addiction.
It is estimated that gambling addiction affects somewhere between two to five percent of all American adults in some way. Many different risk factors can lead to a compulsive gambling addiction that is both difficult to cope with and equally difficult to overcome. Fortunately, there is help and treatment has been derived from many different methods of counseling and therapy to assist those who have a compulsive gambling problem with overcoming their desire to gamble and learning how to control their behaviors.
What is Gambling Addiction?
A simple desire to scratch a ticket, play a slot or visit a casino is not necessarily a sign of gambling addiction but when this desire is so compulsive that you just can’t stop thinking about it until you take action, there may be a problem in your life. Gambling addiction is characterized by a compulsive desire to gamble that is marked with an inability to control behaviors when gambling. Those who suffer from gambling addiction will continue to gamble (either daily or possibly just on a binge) despite negative financial, legal and social consequences.
Many people who are addicted to gambling will do things that they never would have done if it weren’t for their addiction such as stealing money from friends or family members or taking part in illegal activities in an effort to get more money either to gamble or to pay debts. Despite a desire to quit, many compulsive gamblers are unable to control their actions without help. The impulsive behaviors often get them into trouble and can lead to serious consequences.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
Often referred to as a “hidden illness” gambling addiction has no obvious physical signs or symptoms that can be quickly or easily spotted. Problem gamblers often go unnoticed for many years before the signs of the addiction finally become evident even to close friends and family members. In fact, because many gambling addicts are able to control their behaviors the majority of the time, it could be very difficult to spot a gambling addiction unless you physically go with the gambler into a situation in which they are actually gambling, then you may quickly realize that they are out of control.
The following behaviors are all potential signs of gambling addiction:
- being preoccupied with gambling, playing lotto, going to the casino, gambling online, etc
- avoiding obligations at work, school, home or socially in order to spend time gambling
- avoiding friends or family members who have voiced concern of a potential gambling addiction
- financial hardships such as loss of house, car, job, or other possessions to gambling
- stealing money to gamble or to pay debts
- selling possessions to acquire money to gamble or pay debts
- inability to control behaviors despite a desire to have such control
- neglecting expenses such as bills or other financial obligations in order to gamble
- sneaking around, telling lies about gambling or otherwise masking a potential problem
- denying actions or minimizing problems
Recognizing Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
Although the signs of gambling addiction are often difficult for others to spot, if you like to gamble, there’s a good chance that you will be able to recognize the symptoms of gambling addiction in yourself early on, well before others will even notice.
You might have a gambling problem if:
- You feel out of control or have little control over your desire to gamble. When you start to gamble, is it difficult for you to walk away? Have you ever worn an unnecessary device (such as an adult diaper) in order to avoid the need to leave a gambling area? You could have a gambling problem!
- You feel compelled to keep gambling until you’ve spent your last dollar. If you keep bidding until you’ve spent all of your money in an effort to win the money back, or if you up your bets in an effort to win lost money you might have a gambling problem.
- You hide your gambling from friends or family members. If your friends or family members have already voiced concern for your gambling so you now hide your behaviors, or you believe that your behaviors would cause friends or family members to be concerned so you choose to hide the behaviors instead then you could have a problem. There’s often a good reason for others to be concerned.
- You spend money that you don’t have available to spend on gambling. Do you spend bill money, get credit card cash advances or otherwise use money that is for other obligations in order to gamble. If you borrow, cheat, steal, sell your possessions or lie in order to facilitate your gambling then this is a problem.
- You want to stop gambling but you seem always to fall back into a situation that causes you to gamble. If you have tried to stop gambling but just can’t seem to stop despite your desire to do better and to stop gambling then you have a problem and need help!
Myths & Facts about Gambling Addiction
Myth: Problem gambling is only a problem for those who cannot afford to gamble.
Fact: Compulsive gambling leads to emotional problems, relationship problems and could lead to legal problems in addition to the financial implications. Even if you have the money to spend, gambling too much can become problematic as your social life suffers from your spending too much time on gambling.
Myth: If you don’t gamble everyday then it’s not a problem.
Fact: Gambling in excess, either daily or during a binge, can be problematic. Even if you don’t gamble often, the gambling can still cause problems financially, legally or socially.
Myth: Gambling addicts are driven by their partners behaviors.
Fact: Gambling addicts often place blame on their loved ones in an effort to take the blame off of themselves but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the partner has anything to do with their problem.
Not all gambling is problematic. Responsible gambling is possible and many gaming venues take part in responsible gaming policies that are intended to provide gamblers with an ethical means of having fun without the dangers and risks associated with gambling addiction.
The following components are part of a responsible gambling venue:
- safe gaming environment that is fair for all involved
- underage or vulnerable players are identified and measures taken to address these situations
- address problem gambling issues and reduce the chance of such issues
- ensure prompt payments both to and from patrons
- test gaming to ensure randomness and adherence to rules
Negative Effects of Gambling Addiction
The devastation that gambling addiction can wreak on the life of those who suffer from this illness as well as those around him make this a very dangerous disorder to be reckoned with. Compulsive gambling accounts for as much as five billion dollars spent annually in the United States alone. Many of the people who are addicted to gambling find themselves accruing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
The negative effects of problem gambling include:
- Financial problems including high debt, poverty or bankruptcy
- Domestic violence and child abuse in families
- Suicidal thoughts, actions or actually committing suicide
- Legal troubles including arrests for theft or prostitution
- Behavior problems in children of problem gamblers
Treatment for Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction affects each individual in a different way and each gambler will have unique needs for recovery. The type of treatment that works for one individual will not necessarily work for another. Probably the greatest hurdle in treatment for gambling addiction is to realize and admit that you have a problem and need help. Because gambling is called the “hidden addiction” it can be very, very difficult to attest to your wrongdoing, and admit that you have a gambling problem. This is especially true when a gambling addiction has resulted in extreme financial hardship, broken relationships and certain legal problems along the way.
Treatment for gambling addiction takes many forms and most people who seek help for a gambling addiction participate in Gamblers’ Anonymous (GA). In addition to the social support that is found in the Gamblers’ Anonymous programs, psychotherapy, and especially cognitive behavioral therapy, have proven to be effective at helping those who are addicted to gambling to change their behaviors and take on more positive actions to cope with stress or other potential triggers that would typically lead them to gamble.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for gambling addiction focuses on changing the poor behaviors of a problem gambler into positive thoughts and behaviors. The idea here is to rewire the gamblers brain into a new way of thinking about their gambling addiction and their desire to gamble.
Some of the changed behaviors that are learned through cognitive behavioral therapy when treating gambling addiction include:
- finding a hobby or other sport that is challenging and provides a thrill in place of the thrill that comes when gambling
- seeking help from a counselor rather than use gambling and gaming to cover up or mask unpleasant feelings, problems or traumatic experiences
- finding new interests or hobbies to fill spare time rather than partake in gambling due to boredom
- exercising to relieve stress instead of gambling to relieve stress
- seeking help from a credit or debt counselor, working a second job or otherwise finding ways to make money to solve financial problems rather than to gamble in an attempt to win money
Coping with a Desire to Gamble
During treatment, you will learn many ways to cope with cravings or your desire to gamble. It is completely normal to feel the urge to gamble, especially if you are recovering from a gambling addiction, but it can be difficult to cope with such desires in a positive way. Throughout your struggles with gambling addiction and recovery there will likely be many times that you want to gamble and struggle to make the right choice not to follow through with your desires. The following methods can help you to cope with potential triggers without relapsing:
- Get support. Your support network can keep you on track, provide you with a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear and the help you need when you feel like you might slip up. Call a family member or friend when you’re feeling like you need help or go to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting for moral support from others who have similar problems.
- Get distracted. If you’re bored, find something to do. If you’re getting irritated, move on. If you are in a situation that is causing you to wish you could gamble, change the situation. Do what it takes to distract yourself and to change the thoughts you are having about gambling. You might go to the gym and work out, go to a movie with friends, or find another activity to take your mind off of gambling.
- Procrastinate against gambling. If you feel like you really want to buy a lotto ticket or head to the casino, procrastinate. Tell yourself that you will wait an hour and then make a decision. In many cases, and especially as time goes on, the urge to gamble will completely pass or it will become so weak that you can resist it and move on.
- Check yourself. If you still feel like you can’t resist the urge to gamble after you have taken the above steps to prevent relapse, give yourself a reality check. Think about the feelings you will have if you do gamble, if you do spend all your money, if you do relapse. Chance are this will be enough of a reminder to keep you from falling back into the wrong path.
Gambling Addiction Help
If you or someone you love needs treatment for a gambling problem, it’s important that you seek a treatment approach that will be most appropriate for your individual needs. Finding the right type of treatment for your needs and the right help for a gambling addiction will ensure that you have the greatest chance of recovery. Most of the time, gambling addiction treatment takes place either through social support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous and outpatient therapy or in an inpatient facility.
If your gambling addiction has lead to severe financial, legal or social problems then you may require inpatient treatment for your condition. This type of help for gambling addiction includes around-the-clock supervision in a hospital like setting where the patient will stay while undergoing treatment. The intense therapy, counseling and supervision provided by inpatient treatment centers significantly reduce the risk of relapse while in treatment.
Compulsive gamblers often need the support of friends, family members and additional peers in order to help them stop gambling. Gamblers Anonymous groups can provide peer and social support for those in recovery or for those who wish they could stop gambling. For many, these groups provide a foundation for a successful and long term recovery from addiction to gambling.
Here’s how you can help a family member or loved one who is suffering from a gambling addiction:
- Understand the addiction. The first thing you can do to help a loved one who is addicted to gambling is to learn all you can about the addiction. Find a support group that can help you with the stress that comes from having a loved one who is addicted to gambling.
- Find support. Support for yourself and for your loved one who is addicted can be very beneficial in helping with a gambling addiction. Many support groups are available throughout communities and in treatment centers. Therapist and counselors can also provide support for gambling addiction.
- Manage money tightly. If you have a loved one who is addicted to gambling and who is actively pursuing help, you can help by keeping money tightly managed. This means that you take responsibility for the money and reduce the impulses that your loved one has to gamble.
- Address future money needs. You can also manage money in the future by reducing the availability of funds for the recovering addict and by making a commitment not to fall victim to their pleas, manipulation or other requests for unnecessary money.