For most people, spending an hour or two playing at an online casino or making an occasional visit to a land based casino is a harmless pastime, and a way to unwind, enjoy a few thrills and claim the occasional win, using money that they can afford to lose.
But for some, this is not the case. For a few people, gambling can become an addiction; a hard-to-control instinct to keep playing casino games and betting on sports events long after others have stopped, risking their financial, physical and emotional wellbeing. Like alcohol and drug addiction, gambling addiction can ruin lives.
The precise causes of gambling addiction are not fully understood. It is believed that gambling can trigger the brain’s chemical reward system, in a similar way to drugs and alcohol. It is also likely that a combination of genetic and environmental influences can play a part:
People who develop gambling problems often have underlying mental health issues, ranging from depression and anxiety to bipolar and personality disorders.
There is evidence to suggest that people who gamble as children or teenagers are at greater risk of developing a gambling addiction. The problem is also more common in men than it is in women, although both men and women are susceptible, and this imbalance may simply be a result of the fact that it has traditionally been more socially acceptable for men to gamble.
Compulsive or addictive behaviour can be influenced by genetics, and you may be at greater risk of developing a gambling addiction if people in your social circle are gambling addicts. Those who display certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or restlessness could also be at greater risk of developing a gambling problem.
Although there is some evidence to indicate certain groups of people are at greater risk than others, gambling addiction is a problem that can affect anyone of any age or background.
As with other addictions, the first step towards dealing with the problem is to recognise that it exists. Understandably, no-one wants to admit that they have a gambling addiction, and it can be painful to come to terms with, but the recovery process can only begin when you are honest with yourself. A good place to start is to ask yourself how many of the common signs of compulsive gambling apply to you. These include:
- Gambling with ever-higher stakes
- Spending significant amounts of time thinking about gambling
- Becoming restless or agitated if you can’t gamble
- Chasing your losses
- Lying to others about your gambling
- Borrowing money to fund your gambling
- Choosing to spend time gambling rather than with your family or friends
- Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
- Turning to criminal activities to pay for gambling
- Being unable to stop gambling until you have lost all of your money
- Other people expressing concern about your gambling
If you find that one or more of these factors apply to you, then it is possible that you have a gambling problem. But once you’ve identified that you may have a problem, how can you beat it? Overcoming gambling addiction is hard, but it can be done and every year thousands of gambling addicts kick their habit and get their lives back.
There are a number of steps you can take to tackle a gambling addiction, starting with the casinos where you gamble. That may seem a counter-intuitive place to begin, but in fact, reputable online casinos have developed a number of options and measures in conjunction with Gambling Addiction organizations to help problem gamblers, including self-exclusion, that can tackle the problem in the short term. You can read more about these options here.
You can also close your account, but before doing so, request that the casino does not allow you to open a new account with them or any other related casino in future, should you have a relapse. Properly regulated online casinos will always honour this request.
An increasing understanding of how gambling addiction works has led to greatly improved therapy for gambling addicts in recent years. It has become clear that gambling habits can often be influenced by deeper emotional or psychological issues that need to be resolved before the addiction can be tackled. Your physician should be able to direct you to a course of psychotherapy that can help you get to the bottom of your gambling, and this type of therapy will also give you an environment in which you can open up about your problem.
An alternative or complement to psychotherapy and counselling are the programs offered by gambling recovery groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. These not only provide a structured plan to tackle your addiction, they also introduce you to others in the same situation, helping you to build up a support network as you go through your recovery.
If your gambling addiction is related to an underlying mental health condition, treating that condition with medication could be the key to tackling your gambling problem. For those with the most serious gambling addiction problems, a period of inpatient rehabilitation may be the best treatment, particularly if you are unable to avoid casinos or other gambling locations.
Gambling addiction is hard to beat, but it can be done. If you suspect you may have a gambling problem, or that a friend or family member is addicted to gambling, speak to a doctor or a health professional. They will be able to give you the information and the practical help you need to tackle the problem and lift the shadow of gambling addiction.