We have all 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 (if the bid is unsuccessful). 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 suffering from 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 abuse 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 can be a force to contend with governments classifying gambling addiction as a significant public health concern. The issue of gambling addiction is so concerning that communities have been pushed to intensifying protests until casinos or other avenues to engage in gambling have been canceled or 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. Even if there were obvious symptoms, people suffering from this addiction often try to sweep things under the rug or pretend that there is no problem. But, there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for in a loved one, or in your own case.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. Poor financial decisions in general
Gambling addiction often goes hand-in-hand with poor financial literacy and choices overall. It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from a gambling addiction to take out loans to feed their addiction. If not loans, they could also sell or escrow possessions, assets, or whatever can be turned into liquidity quickly. A fraction of individuals will also look towards crime to feed this habit.
4. 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 that wish you well come up with a singular 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 removed 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 easier to fight with it, and attain positive outcomes. However, the most important part of stopping a gambling addiction is the individual recognizing that they have a gambling addiction that needs to be resolved. Only then can ways be devised to help them quit gambling. You cannot really fix something if you’re in denial and not entirely comprehending what has been going on. Therefore, the first step is to admit how bad the problem is in all its nakedness.
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 or have been before. 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're aiming for are company and encouragement. Besides, a support group may quickly be accessible online, especially in this digital age. Gamblers Anonymous is one such example. Another resource is an excellent gambling hotline at the National Council on Problem Gambling. These resources will present a much larger picture of your situation, helping you to stop obsessing over your particular case. They can also point you in the right direction to access local resources.
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 get you thinking about gambling, you could work your way around such a trigger by taking a different route. If a friend led you into this world, you may want to or need to move on from that particular relationship. You can also have a spouse or a close friend take care of leaks in your financial system that may otherwise allow you to fuel this habit. Initially, this may be easier said than done, but the rewards can be fulfilling.
Have the Right Mindset
Condition your mind to take baby steps away from gambling. What will work for some people is not to blanketly cut it out of their life, because they may recoil very strongly at some point in time and end up back at square one. So you could, perhaps under some oversight, take steps to mitigate the intensity of gambling, the kind of gambling you engage in, the source of funds that you expend, etc. You could also work out an arrangement with yourself that you may postpone such activity until a certain event has transpired. The trick is to avoid too much pain so that there is a lower chance of failure.
Embrace a New Hobby
Consider picking up a new hobby. This hobby should help trigger your response in such a way that your cravings to gamble are weakened. 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. You could perhaps find something else to spend your money on, even if you can't do that in the long term, it may help ease the desire to gamble. For example, you could travel, and that could be glamorous for many people in the same way that gambling is.
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 metastasize into a compounded problem, alongside say substance abuse issues or something just as bad. Therefore, it is essential to get it taken care of before it turns into an even bigger beast to tackle. 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.