You’re reading this because you enjoy gambling – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Gambling is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.
For most of these people, it will always mean a hobby never becoming anything more than that.
But what about those people who discover they’ve developed an uncontrollable gambling habit? Or addiction?
Gambling can very easily slip from being a bit of harmless fun, to creating serious, financial and personal issues.
It’s actually a form of mental health issue. Amazingly, it’s not dissimilar to other mental health issues and addictions, even sharing traits in common with chemical drug addiction, as well as other impulse-control issues, like kleptomania or pyromania.
Just as with any addiction, it becomes very difficult for the person experiencing the issue to control and curb their behaviour, even when they can see it’s hurting their families, friends and themselves. While not everyone with a gambling addiction will experience the same types or intensities of symptoms, you might find that thee include:
This means, plain and simple, when someone is unable to stop themselves from wanting to gamble. This type of symptom can express itself in different ways:
Just like with binge-eating, this is when someone displays compulsive gambling symptoms as above, although only during specific time periods or over bursts of time.
This is the term describing when someone isn’t a compulsive gambler, however their gambling habits are still entirely under control.
The American Psychiatric Association in 2018 diagnosed compulsive disorder as including at least four of the symptoms below being present in a person within the past year.
A quick note on this, if the gambling addict has a separate mental health issue, the below pointers should be considered a sign of a joint addiction:
It’s important to note that this list alone is not an exhaustive way to tell if you or someone you know has a gambling addiction. Only a mental health professional such as a therapist, a psychiatrist, or otherwise will be able to accurately diagnose a gambling addiction.
A professional is a key person to consult in order to diagnose and exclude any other potential mental health condition that may be causing these behaviours, instead of gambling addiction.
Unfortunately, this is because gambling addicts are usually most acceptable to other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Otherwise, a trained medical professional will make an accurate diagnosis from an entire evaluation, both physical and mental, to double-check and rule out any other medical condition causing these behaviours.
While nobody knows for certain regarding the exact cause, and many people think there isn’t one exact cause, there are many different factors that can contribute to causing a gambling addiction.
As with most mental disorders, there are links between hereditary behaviours, but gambling addicts are never exactly like one another. You should also take into account any mental health conditions the gambling addict might have, such as substance abuse, depression or otherwise, as well as the age the person began gambling. There’s a lot to uncover about their first gambling interactions and experiences, such as a huge first win.
Problem gambling is often biological at its root, as can be seen from other similar, compulsive addictions.
Brain imaging has proven that’s gambling wins produce a similar neurological response to cocaine addicts getting hit by their drug of choice.
The imaging also shows that deficiencies in the chemical link to stress and dangerous situations, norepinephrine, is present in problem gambles, as is the chemical linked to happiness and well-being, serotonin. Unfortunately, some problem gamblers are genetically predisposed to developing impulse control issues or other addictive disorders, simply due to their genetics.
Psychology is another key factor in developing gambling addictions. This can be from a way that someone thinks about gambling, and is sometimes what causes the difference between being a high risk for developing a gambling issue, and actually developing a gambling issue. What’s known as the ‘Gambler’s fallacy’ can provide some rationalisations for compulsive gambling behaviour.
The ‘Gambler’s fallacy’ is the idea that independent events are connected by a series, and this series also affects the odds of future independent events.
For instance, if a coin is flipped 5 times, landing on heads each of those 5 times, the next flip’s odds that it ends up with the tails remains at 50%. However, the gambler’s fallacy leads the person to believe that, that same coin will land on tails for the next few flips, as a way of correcting the previous heads-heavy results. This is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, allowing compulsive gamblers to begin chasing losses, in the belief that their luck will surely change for the better soon, to make up for their losses.
Outside sources can also manipulate these gambling behaviours. Stress, other emotional difficulties in a person’s professional or personal life can trigger unwanted gambling behaviour.
Someone’s playing environment can also encourage problematic behaviours. For example, gambling dependency and problematic behaviours can be exacerbated during social isolation, or times when you aren’t able to leave your house.
If someone has a pre-existing addiction to alcohol drugs or otherwise, they are more at risk of developing a gambling problem.
Whether you already are aware that you may have a gambling problem, if you feel you’re losing your ability to gamble safely, or you’ve noticed friends and family telling you have a problem, it’s time to seek help.
Just as with other addictions, it may seem that the signs of gambling issues are obvious to other people, but it is actually pretty common for gamblers and those in their surroundings, to completely miss issues at first. This is possibly due to the gambler’s nuanced or secretive behaviours, and that other issues surrounding problematic gambling can easily be rationalised, or hidden by the person with the gambling issue.
The definition of problem gambling and gambling addiction in general differs between different organisations, however most professionals all agree on the same basic problematic gambling symptoms.
The American Association of Psychiatry has a range of basic self-help strategies for people with gambling issues, to help with any cravings they might feel should they have a gambling problem.
There are several ways for compulsive gamblers to seek treatment, but there’s no single treatment which is standard for treating gambling addiction.
Psychotherapy has a very high success rate for treating gambling issues. Counsellors can improve problem gambling behaviours, with most individuals who develop gambling addictions often having an underlying other psychiatric issue. That means, a psychologist or psychiatrist can help with related mental health issues, as well as treating the gambling addiction.
There are no specific medications exclusive for treating gambling addiction, although some have proven useful in combating urges to gamble, or the feelings of mania inspired by betting. These medications include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, medications used to treat other addictions, as well as some SSRIs.
No one knows the exact percentage of problem gamblers. Most diagnosis comes from self-reporting. In the USA, problem gambling rates tend to be in the range of 2 to 3%.,a and is higher in areas where gambling is a huge part of the culture, such as Nevada. All the studies have found that gambling addiction seems to occur more often in men than women.
Not all of the negative effects of gambling are obvious:
It goes without saying that constant gambling can cause financial issues. This includes debt and more passive losses, such as the loss of a home, a job or even bankruptcy. These financial issues can lead to other issues, often legal in nature, with some gamblers looking to steal and find other ways to make money to use for gambling.
Gambling addiction and issues can cause untold mental health issues. This can cause problems in significant relationships, and even have negative effects on someone’s career or education. Compulsive gambling a problematic gambling behaviours can lead to depression, and even suicide.
Problem gambling affects those closest to the gambler. This can include families, inspiring domestic violence, as well as having the gambler pass on any addictive behaviours to children, as well as developing depression, substance abuse, or other problematic behaviours.
Fact: Financial issues aren’t the only thing that causes a problem gambler. It can also be an emotional issue, jeopardising someone’s employment and relationships.
Fact: In irregular gamblers, you might not see the compulsive behaviour that often, but if the times they do gamble fits in with compulsive gambling habits listed above, they may still have a problem.
Fact: Anyone can develop an addiction, and it’s nothing to do with their responsibility as a person. Even if someone acts irresponsibly, it might not make them an irresponsible person in life. Gambling addiction is a disorder that leads to loss of control and can affect anyone.
Fact: This is this age bracket that are spending more on gambling in the past few years (probably due to the rise of my mobile gaming), but they can also be affected by a close family member’s compulsive gambling behaviour, which could even lead to problematic gambling for them in later life.
Fact: This is actually counterproductive. It doesn’t solve the problem comer and actually makes the gambler feel that they have a backup in case and when they find themselves needing money again. When they find themselves needing money again, it could even cause them to place more bets.
You might miss the initial signs of compulsive gambling in loved ones, however there are several things to look out for:
If your loved ones start displaying these kinds of issues, it might be time to start taking them seriously. They could be looking for help, but don’t understand the full extent of the issue. It’s important that you do not seem judgemental, or threatening towards the person with the gambling issue.
Loved ones of the person with compulsive gambling habits should try to educate themselves, so that they may be supportive, and not act in a way that would enable the gambler to either continue gambling or avoid treatment.
For example, you should never offer to pay off their gambling debts as this is enabling, but you could help them to find financial counselling, as well as other services, such as therapy, to help them deal with their behaviour.
You could help someone to seek treatment for their gambling behaviour, and you could let them know how the gambling has affected their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones.
You could stage an intervention, where close friends and family discuss the compulsive gambler’s effect on their lives. This in itself won’t change any compulsive habits, but could be a good start in the journey towards helping change the behaviour in the long term. You should never speak in a confrontational or heated tone, and should always seek a professional to help someone with a gambling problem.
There is a high rate of compulsive gambler suicide. If you or someone you love feel suicidal and you’re based in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention. You can also visit the Befrienders Worldwide to find a suicidal support network in your own country of residence.
There are so many resources available for those looking to help gambling addicts. Not every type of treatment works for each person and sometimes you might have to try a few things before you find something that works.
There are group meetings available, advanced therapy professionals, and more options beyond these: help is always available.
Here’s a range of resources to help you fight gambling addiction.
We always promote responsible gambling, but this advice should never be used instead of seeking professional help should you develop a gambling problem.