All You Need to Know About Gambling Addiction

Gambling practices have been around for thousands of years and were likely taking place long before humans documented it. In modern times, people from across the world are more connected than ever as a result of the internet and other technological advancements. This has allowed us to take consensus on things like gambling and even problem gambling. While gambling is one of the most popular pastimes today, there is a percentage of players who admit to having trouble controlling their casino gambling habits. This lack of control can lead to financial, personal, mental, familial and physical problems if left unchecked.

Gambling Addiction Defined

Like many other addictions and compulsions, gambling addiction and problem gambling have been found to be mental health conditions. It has been categorised as such because it shares similarities to other addictions and compulsions disorders that deal with impulse-control, such as Kleptomania and trichotillomania.

Impulse-control disorders make it difficult for the afflicted individuals to stop themselves from engaging in behaviours that are harmful to themselves, their families and their friends. It is worth noting that no two gambling addictions are the same. This means that there will be varying degrees of intensity and different experiences for every addict. Below are the different types of gambling addictions:

Binge Gambling

Binge gambling is perhaps one of the sneakiest forms of gambling addiction because it is not always present. Many people do not even realise that they have a problem until it is too late. Binge gambling is when a player exhibits worrying compulsive behaviours towards gambling practices for a limited time only. Here is what to look out for:

Binge gamblers go for long periods of time without displaying any addictive behaviours
Binge gamblers appear to be in control of their problem and often seem as though they don’t have one
Compulsive gambling tendencies become obvious once betting commences even if it takes place infrequently.

Compulsive Gambling

Compulsive gambling is one of the easier gambling addictions to identify because players with this addiction are simply unable to control their urges. These players are likely aware of the dangers, risks and harm that their gambling could bring about but feel compelled to gamble anyway. Here’s what to look out for:

Compulsive gamblers will place wager after wager, regardless of whether they win or can afford to lose
These gamblers will be constantly on the lookout for gambling opportunities even when they do not have the bankroll for it
Compulsive gambling and pathological gambling are one in the same thing

Signs of Gambling Addiction in Adults

Despite what many people believe, identifying risky behaviours and recognizing them as problem gambling or gambling addiction is not often black and white. While you would need a professional diagnosis to confirm your suspicions, the following information should not be taken in lieu of the opinion of a trained professional. Several other mental conditions could lead to the behaviours described below that present when people are gambling. The American Psychiatric Association has provided a list of warning signs and symptoms that should be taken seriously if you, or someone you know, is guilty of behaving in four or more of the ways described below:

Experiencing signs of withdrawal i.e., irritability, restlessness and shortness of temper when trying to cut down on gambling activities.
Lying for friends and loved ones to conceal damages and losses that result from gambling
Often thinking about gambling by either planning for your next gaming session or reliving the high of the previous one.
Feeling an urge to gamble more and more money to chase the high and excitement.
Repeatedly failing to follow through on cutting back on gambling.
Resorting to gambling when emotional, stressed, anxious or sad.
Losing important relationships and opportunities as a result of gambling habits.
After suffering a loss, returning to the casino venue to try to win money back or get even.
Relying on family and friends to assist with monetary deficits brought on by uncontrollable gambling urges.

Once again, we would like to remind you that while these tips and warning signs are accurate, they cannot replace the opinion and diagnosis of a trained psychiatrist or therapist. To be sure that you, or your loved ones, are dealing with problem gambling and pursue the correct treatment plan, you will need to visit a registered doctor to ensure that there is no other possible cause for these behaviours. Gambling addictions often stem from other psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse. In some cases, problem gambling is not the root problem but rather a symptom of another serious disorder that requires equal attention and the necessary treatment.

The Causes of Problem Gambling

In the same way that no two people’s psyche is exactly the same, so too are the disorders that affect them. People with gambling addictions come from different backgrounds, circumstances and paths which makes it difficult to pinpoint a direct cause. However, there are a few factors that can bring about this behaviour that has been highlighted by addiction specialists. Besides the ones mentioned below, factors such as how old you were when you first experienced gambling, how much you won at the onset and overall mental health all play a role.

Psychological Factors

There are several indirect psychological factors that could determine whether gambling will become a problem. The first is how we think about gambling. Whether we consider it to be recreational, relaxing, exciting or an opportunity for fortune will affect how you go about gambling. Many mental health professionals believe that the Gambler’s fallacy provides players with a rationalization of dangerous behaviours.

The Gambler’s Fallacy is highlighted as a psychological factor because it has some influence over decision-making abilities, resulting in players making uncharacteristically irresponsible decisions as they subscribe to this belief. The notion that the odds will have to balance out is what leads to many problem gamblers chasing their losses in hopes that this will be the case.

After conducting extensive research and analysis on the different kinds of gambling afflictions in the world today, it has been found that gambling addicts' thinking has been distorted by beliefs and concepts, such as the Gambler’s Fallacy. This has led to many gamblers believing that chasing losses is a viable and reasonable course of action.

Another psychological aspect that has contributed to the rise in problem gambling is the introduction of more fast-paced gaming options. For example, impulsive gamblers are more likely to head to a slot machine, allowing them to get their fix instantly than to play the lottery which can only be done once every day.

Biological Factors

Addiction is not just psychological, there are biological factors that can come into play. This has been seen in people with addictions to substances, gambling activities and even habits like overeating. The human brain produces a number of hormones that, in turn, lead to us experiencing emotions. Brain imaging has revealed that gambling addictions experience the same biological reactions as substance abusers. Hormones that alert us of danger and stress, such as norepinephrine, are produced in smaller doses while “feel good” hormones, such as serotonin, are produced in excess.

This means that gambling addicts are less aware of the dangers and are consumed by feelings of happiness when giving in to their impulses.
While it is not set in stone, a predisposition to addiction can be traced through genetics. This means that there are specific genes that can be passed on between family members. In these cases, gambling addicts with a predisposition to addictive tendencies generally only kick their gambling habit to replace it with a more positive and healthy habit.

Social Factors

Those with biological triggers are not the only ones who become victims of gambling addiction. These days, we are constantly connected to our friends, family and the media. Some addicts admit that they would have never considered gambling unless it was suggested to them by someone in their social circle. These outside sources act as a catalyst for emotions such as stress, depression and even anxiety to manifest into a gambling addiction over time. Gambling addictions that have progressed can be exaggerated by periods of isolation that provide players with more free time, and less judgement, to gamble online for hours on end.

Other social factors include your upbringing, level of support and distress/anxiety. Children who grow up around unchecked gambling addictions are more prone to the same behaviours in their adult lives, especially if they do not identify the behaviour as unusual.

Comorbidity

Co-morbidity refers to existing conditions that contribute to the problem at hand. In this case, many gambling addictions are brought on, or exaggerated, by addictions of other sorts. Professional gamblers and experts are always warning players about the dangers of gambling while intoxicated or emotional. Besides the fact that this could lead to less-than-optimal decision making, it can be a slippery slope straight into gambling addiction.

This is especially true if the player in question has already been diagnosed with an addiction of another sort. There are a number of other disorders that affect emotions, such as anxiety disorders and depression, that can play a huge role in how players engage in gambling activities.

Recognizing The Problem

There is a belief that recognizing that you have a problem or could be developing one, is one of the first steps to recovery. While this is true, we would suggest that players heed the concerns of friends and family and seek help.
Many people believe that the signs of problem gambling are always obvious, especially with compulsive gamblers, but identifying the problem can sometimes be challenging for the gambler themselves and those around them. This difficulty is brought about by the gambler’s constant rationalization of their actions which can mask the true insidious nature of these habits.

There are different definitions and classifications for gambling disorders all over the world. However, professionals have met several times to discuss a streamlined list of symptoms to look out for, which we shared above. In addition to this, gamblers have been provided with basic self-help tools and strategies to assist them in curbing their urges and cravings.
If you feel an urge coming on, distract yourself with another activity that you enjoy
Avoid isolation by finding healthier ways to interact with friends, family and strangers
Reach out for your help. You can confide in a friend or family member or even attend an AA meeting for support

Think about how you will feel or what the situation will be like if you give in to your urge and gamble, this is a reality check so be honest
If you feel a craving to gamble, try to postpone the gratification as long as possible and brave the withdrawal. In some cases, the urge will weaken and then disappear over time.
If you are having difficulty following these guidelines, seek professional help immediately.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

While we have outlined the three categories of problem gambling earlier on this page, the truth is that some gamblers could present elements of each. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatment. Some gamblers might only require one of the following treatments, while others will need a combination of them to kick the habit and compulsion.

Medical Treatment

While medicine has certainly advanced over the last 2000 years, there is still no cure for gambling addiction and psychological disorders. However, drugs have been developed that combat the symptoms of these disorders, reducing their prevalence and giving those with addictions some control back. This increase in control has led to many problem gamblers kicking their unhealthy habits for good. These drugs include anti-seizure medications, antidepressants and even mood stabilizers that are used to address many different afflictions, addictions included.

Counselling and Therapy

Psychotherapy has achieved the greatest success in treating gambling addictions and correcting dangerous behaviours. One of the main contributors to this success is that trained professionals are specialized in a number of psychological disorders. Most times, gambling addiction is the symptom of a much bigger problem that a psychologist or therapist will be able to identify. Most people are unaware that they are living with depression, compulsive behaviours or anxiety as it has become their normal. In order to effectively treat the gambling addiction, a therapist will be required to treat the underlying condition as well, increasing your chances of leading a healthier life.

Self-Help and Group Support

The power of support should not be underestimated when tackling an addiction as life-altering as problem gambling. Gamblers Anonymous (GA) groups and therapy have been used in conjunction with each other to achieve a high success rate.

GA group meetings allow gamblers to meet with others who are facing similar challenges and difficulties, providing them with an opportunity to talk through these issues without fear of being judged or misunderstood. In addition to this, the vast majority of hospital-sanctioned GA groups are facilitated by trained professionals who will be able to assist you if the GA meetings are not as effective.

Are Gambling Addictions Common?

Determining how common gambling addictions are these days is far more challenging than most people would think. This is because in many cases, gamblers themselves have to step forward, report their findings and seek out the necessary help. In recent years, many studies have been conducted to find a definitive answer to this question, with many of them reaping results within a particular range.

For example, studies in the US have shown that gambling percentages are commonly between 2 and 3% while gambling addictions are rarer, representing 1% of the gambling population. Naturally, regions where gambling activities are more prevalent and readily accessible, such as Nevada, Las Vegas, had higher recorded percentages. However, in places where gambling is one of the biggest parts of the culture, governments have invested millions into the development of problem gambling organizations and programs. From a demographic perspective, men are more commonly diagnosed with problem gambling than women.

While understanding how common problem gambling is comes with challenges, it is just as complex to determine how many people receive treatment for their conditions. While some gamblers realise that they have a problem and seek help, there are many who consult self-help guides and overcome their behaviours without the assistance of a professional. In other cases, problem gamblers do not come forward and live with their addictions for decades, suffering all the while.

The Negative Effects Gambling Can Have

Many people believe that the effects of problem gambling are always obvious and are immediately negative. Unfortunately, some of these effects start off very mild and slowly increase until gamblers are out of control.

Mental Health

Having gambling problems, compulsions and urges can put a huge strain on the afflicted person’s mental health. In some cases, the issues of having no control can lead to high levels of anxiety while failure to control these behaviours could result in anger, frustration, sadness and even depression. In some cases, problem gamblers become disgusted with themselves and their compulsions and feel that they do not deserve good relationships in their lives. The worst-case scenario is that this depression and isolation can result in suicidal tendencies.

Financial Health

While most responsible players know that sticking to their limits and bankroll are vital to remaining in control, compulsive gamblers feel urges and cravings that cannot be satisfied until they have placed a wager, even if it’s with money they cannot afford to lose. In the case of binge gambling, these players can accrue massive debts within a short amount of time that could lead to the loss of assets and even bankruptcy during a binge.

Social Health

Problem and compulsive gambling might not ruin your relationships right off the bat, but it does take its toll over time. According to statistics and research conducted by multiple problem gambling organizations, the families of problem gamblers are affected significantly. As such, gambling addiction has been linked to social problems and familial problems such as domestic violence, emotional abuse and child abuse. Although some children are not physically harmed, the experience can leave them confused, resulting in substance abuse, depression and behavioural issues as they grow up.

Problem Gambling: Myths vs. Facts

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Myth

If someone gambles from time to time, they cannot have a gambling problem.

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Fact

Problem gambling is not defined by how often you gamble but rather how you go about it and if you are in control. This is why binge gambling has been categorized as a gambling problem with this disorder being the perfect substantiation for this fact. Binge gamblers can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of one event or weekend.

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Myth

Problem gambling cannot affect children and young people. Gambling problems are only for adults

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Fact

While most casino operators endeavour to ensure that their games and services are only enjoyed by those above the legal age, there are instances where young people find a way to play. Many online casinos, in particular, offer free to play games that do not require you to be a certain age since no real money is involved. However, the psychological effects can be exactly the same. In addition to this, young people who are raised by problem gamblers or experience a loved ones’ gaming addiction could view gambling differently when they are of age.

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Myth

Gambling is only a problem when you lose more money than you can afford to

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Fact

Admittedly, financial troubles are a key sign of gambling addiction but in some cases, it does not really feature in a therapists’ diagnosis of a problem gambler. Wealthy people who can afford to lose millions a day should still not be gambling to this value as it is unhealthy. In addition to this, problem gambling does not just affect finances but also relationships and work.

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Myth

Helping a loved one who has a gambling problem means that you pay off their gambling debts and give them money to help ease their financial problems.

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Fact

It is natural for us to want to immediately help a loved one out of a tough spot but paying off debts and giving money to a problem gambler is going to do more harm than good. The best-case scenario is that It will clear their debts so that they can continue to gamble in an unhealthy way and the worst-case scenario is that they will consider you as a safety net and approach you for assistance time and time again.

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Myth

If you are a responsible person, you cannot have a gambling problem

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Fact

Even when people are generally considered responsible, gambling is supposed to be a recreational activity that can lull them into disregarding their responsibilities. It does not have the same effect on everyone but as discussed previously, there are many causes for gambling problems and irresponsibility is not one of them.

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Myth

Fixing a gambling problem is simply a matter of self-control and those who struggle to quit are weak or lack conviction.

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Fact

This is not true. Many people who have kicked other habits before can struggle to quit gambling. There could be an underlying condition that is leading to this behaviour so it is best not to judge. Even the best of us could fall victim to addiction if we are predisposed or have comorbidities.

Helping Someone with Gambling Addiction

When you suspect that one of your loved ones has a gambling problem, it can be very difficult to point this out to them or bring it up. Before you do, we suggest that you take a look at some of the symptoms below and bring these up with your loved one when you have that difficult conversation.

Your loved one is…

Spending more time gambling than they once did
Has asked people for money or has sold precious items to get money to fund their habit
Frequently tells lies in order to continue gambling
Indirectly states or suggests that they feel out of control or might have a problem
Spends money reserved for needs on gambling activities
Neglecting important relationships with friends and family to avoid being called out.

If you notice one or more of these signs, it is time to approach the topic and get serious about the suspected problem. In most cases, your loved one with a gambling problem is crying out for help but does not know how to ask for it directly because they feel ashamed or unsure of their situation. Once you realise that your loved one is having a problem, do not blame them, judge them or make them feel bad about the situation because it could be a manifestation of many other underlying conditions.

One of the most helpful and supportive things you could do for your friend or family member is to educate yourself on what treatment is, what the experience will be like and what you can do to help them. While you cannot do things like pay off their debts or confiscate their money, you can point them in the direction of advisors or debt counsellors who will be able to equip them with long-lasting tools.

Helping Your Loved One Seek treatment

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to approach your loved one that will convince them to seek the professional help and treatment that they need. However, you can let them know in a calm and supportive manner that their behaviours are affecting their lives and the people who they care about.

One of the most popular methods used by family and friends these days is an intervention. An intervention is where a group of people get together to discuss their concerns for someone with that person. Inventions don’t magically change behaviours and turn problem gamblers into recovering gambling addicts but it can be the nudge that the gambler needs to seek assistance. It is important to remember that those who are involved in the intervention should not become upset, angry or accusatory and speak in a gentle and supportive way while voicing their concerns.

Suicide Prevention in Problem Gamblers

Problem gamblers, especially those with compulsions, feel that they are not in control of their lives and their actions. This is made worse by the fact that everyone else around them seems to be doing just fine with self-control and choosing to say no. This can lead to feelings of depression, disgust and even anger towards themselves.

Over time, these feelings can build-up to the point where your loved ones feel that they want to escape their urges by any means necessary. There is a high rate of suicide amongst problem gamblers as a result of this. If you, or someone that you love, is having suicidal thoughts and would like to learn healthy coping mechanisms or talk to someone, you can contact Canada’s Suicide Prevention Service (CSC).

Additional Gambling Resources

If you are looking to learn more about problem gambling and how this addiction is treated, there are several great sources of information available to you. However, we want to remind you once again that every gambler is different and the treatment that will be most successful has to be tailored to each persons’ needs.

You or your loved one could choose to join GA group and speak to people who are experiencing similar struggles, seek professional help or even use both of these options.

Gamblers Anonymous logo

Gamblers Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous is one of the most well-known problem gambling organizations in the world. The group was founded in 1957 and has groups that assemble all over the world. GA also provides support groups for the loved ones of problem gamblers and children to express their feelings and get the assistance they require.

National Problem Gambling Helpline Network logo

National Problem Gambling Helpline Network

This hotline is run by the NCPG and employs trained individuals to provide support, guidance and information on problem gambling signs, symptoms and treatment options.

The National Council on Problem Gambling logo

The National Council on Problem Gambling

The NCPG advocates for the family of problem gamblers and gamblers themselves by providing relevant information on the disorder, addiction and treatment options. There are hundreds of counsellors and support groups to help problem gamblers along.