Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Most of us have tried our hands at gambling, whether it was at a casino or simply on one of the games on our smartphones. Most people report experiencing a suspenseful thrill of possibly coming into a whole lot of money (as well as over losing everything they wagered). This thrill can contribute to compulsiveness in gambling behavior, which in its worst form turns into gambling addiction. Therefore, there is a progressive element to gambling addiction, with increasingly negative repercussions for your overall well-being.
Why is Gambling Addiction Bad?
The biggest problem in gambling is that a simple bid can easily snowball into a series of bids with disregard for the consequences. Once the consequences are disregarded, gambling becomes a problem. But the issue isn’t gambling itself. The reality is that problem gambling is more of an emotional problem than anything else. Left unchecked, as your losses mount, gambling addiction will move from being a financial issue to actually being a source of continuous mental distress. Once the mind begins to be afflicted, individuals report experiencing anxiety, depression, and other spectrum issues.
The gravity of gambling addiction has earned it a place in the APA’s DSM V manual because at times the despondency associated with a gambling addiction has even led to patients having symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses or suicidal thoughts. Short of that, chronic stress has terrible, long-term biological consequences. It is also seen that many times gambling addiction begins to correlate with substance use disorder or another kind of addiction, further compounding the problem.
What is more alarming is that “problem gambling” continues to be on the rise in the United States, afflicting nearly 6 million people. Meanwhile, in certain other countries, gambling addiction has been classified as a significant public health concern. The issue of gambling addiction is so concerning that communities have protested until casinos moved from their neighborhood, regardless of the lost developmental opportunity (such was the case in Philadelphia’s Chinatown).
Signs and Symptoms That You May Have a Gambling Addiction
Unfortunately, gambling addiction is silent, and is often called the “hidden illness.” This is because there are no obvious symptoms. Nevertheless, there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for in a loved one or yourself.
- Secrecy around activity
If someone goes out of their way to be discreet about gambling, or they’ve been caught lying about how much they spend, there could be a problem already. Often, gamblers will justify this by rationalizing that others are not going to understand their necessity or reasoning, or that they can turn the situation around and surprise everyone with a win eventually!
- Lack of control over the activity
If the individual is unable to control how much they are playing, despite heavy losses, they could very well be addicted. Oftentimes a gambler will spend every last bit of money they have on themselves, often justifying that the next round will win them everything that they have lost, and more.
- Poor financial decisions in general
Gambling addiction often goes hand-in-hand with poor financial literacy and choices. It’s not uncommon for someone living with gambling addiction to take out loans to feed their addiction. If not loans, they might sell possessions, assets, or vehicles to turn them into money quickly. A fraction of individuals will also look towards crime to feed this habit.
- Using an external frame of reference
It may help to take into consideration what close friends and family members may have to say. That may be easier said than done because often pride is at stake. However, if several people come up with a similar opinion, there could very well be a valid reason for it. If you are still reluctant, you could also reach out to a licensed counselor to get a different perspective on everything.
Gambling Addiction Diagnosis
A diagnosis is the first step in stopping gambling. According to the DSM manual, the individual must have experienced at least four of the following nine in the past year.
- The need for emotional excitement with using more and more amounts of money to gamble.
- Experiencing restlessness when moving away from the habit.
- Failure in attempts at curbing the habit.
- Thinking, planning, and strategizing about how to engage in the habit despite various kinds of restrictions.
- Turning to gambling to feel better.
- Repeatedly engaging in gambling despite having lost money.
- Concealment and lies to cover up gambling activities.
- Problems related to gambling ending up in social life or work life.
- Sourcing money that is not discretionary to fuel the habit.
HOW TO STOP GAMBLING ADDICTION?
Believe it or not, the emotional nature of problem gambling makes it more difficult to attain positive outcomes. However, the most important part of stopping a gambling addiction is the individual recognizing that they have a gambling addiction. Only then can they find ways to help them quit gambling. You cannot really fix something if you’re in denial and not comprehending what has been going on. Therefore, the first step is to admit how bad the problem is.
GET SUPPORT FOR GAMBLING ADDICTION
Battling addiction alone is hard. It can be helpful to reach out to others who may be in the same situation as you are. This will help build up empathy in you for your own cause. This is why joining a support group is a crucial part of gambling addiction treatment. You will receive both assistance and compassion. Professional intervention may or may not be present, but what you are aiming for isgood company and encouragement. Another resource is the gambling hotline at the National Council on Problem Gambling. These resources can present a larger picture of your situation and help you to stop obsessing over your particular case.
Relapse prevention and addiction recovery are centered around avoiding temptation. Because gambling itself is an addiction, one must be serious about avoiding temptations related to gambling. Therefore, it’s important to avoid places, individuals, and activities that lead you to gamble. For example, if you know that driving by a casino or another gambling venue is going to make you think about gambling, you could take a different route. If a friend led you into this world, you may want to move on from that particular relationship. You can also have a spouse or a close friend take care of your finances to prevent you from fueling this habit. Initially, this may be easier said than done, but the rewards can be worthwhile.
Embrace a New Hobby
Consider picking up a new hobby. This hobby can help minimize your triggers and establish healthy coping mechanisms. Keep in mind, your goal at this time is to weaken your bond with gambling. It is also a time to take a calculated amount of risk. While meditation, improved social networking, or physical activity may be great, they’re also polar opposites to gambling. Don’t be afraid to find something (healthy) that excites you the same way that winning a big prize would.
It’s Okay to Get Help- There is Support for Gambling Addiction
If you’re trying to overcome a gambling addiction on your own, you don’t have to do it alone. Together with a licensed counselor, you can work to overcome this urge to gamble and get your life back on track. Counselors are here to help guide you along on your journey to recovery. If you leave your gambling addiction unaddressed, it can grow into a larger problem. It might even become comorbid with another disorder such as substance use disorder. Working with a counselor will help you do just that. If gambling seems to be causing trouble in your life but you aren’t sure if you’re addicted, this free test can help you get a better idea so that you can take the first steps towards recovery.