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When Gambling Becomes a Problem

Gambling can be fun and lucrative as long as it's a casual hobby. However, for some people, it can also turn into an addiction. While gambling addiction is a serious problem, it is not an unsolvable problem. It is possible to combat this addiction by learning what it is, how it occurs, and how to control it. The important thing is that you acknowledge the existence of the problem and understand how it affects both yourself and your loved ones. Below you will find the information you need to understand and combat gambling addiction.

What is Gambling Addiction?

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), defines this condition as an “addictive disorder”. This definition may not mean much on its own unless you are an expert, but it provides guidance on what gambling addiction is and how it should be treated. Anyone who cannot control their instincts to gamble can be described as a problematic gambler. So, if you can't control the impulse to gamble (even though you know it will have negative consequences), you may be an addict too. Technically, this is how all addictions work: alcohol addicts, for example, cannot control their instincts in the same way.

  • I don't play every day so I can't be addicted. This is a wrong thought. It is not necessary to play every day to become addicted to gambling. The important thing is that you cannot control your impulses.
  • My financial situation is sufficient, and I can easily spare money for gambling, so it is not possible for me to become addicted. This is a wrong thought. Gambling addiction has nothing to do with the budget: rich and poor alike can develop addictions.
  • Gambling addiction only affects uneducated and weak-willed people. This is a wrong thought. Gambling addiction can affect any social class and education level has nothing to do with it.

What Causes Addiction to Gamble?

People often want to identify a single cause and blame it, but addictions (no matter the type) don't work that way. There is no single cause of gambling addiction. This dependence can have many biological, genetic, and environmental reasons. The following conditions are considered to increase the risk factor of gambling addiction:

  • Age. Gambling in childhood or teenage years increases the risk of gambling addiction in middle age.
  • Sex. Gambling addiction is more common among men. However, this is due to the fact that women are introduced to gambling later than men. Studies show that once they start playing, they can become addicted faster than men.
  • Influence. If your friends or family members are addicted to gambling, you are more likely to develop the same addiction.
  • Personality. Research shows that obsessive, competitive, workaholic people are more prone to developing a gambling addiction. People with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) are more prone to becoming addicted.
  • Certain Drugs. Some drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease and restless leg syndrome can surprisingly cause gambling addiction.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

Regardless of age, cultural background and education level, the symptoms of gambling addiction are almost the same. If you or a loved one has any of the following symptoms, you should suspect gambling addiction.

  • Thinking and planning about gambling even when not gambling
  • Continuously increasing the amount of money used for gambling
  • Feeling restless when gambling is interrupted
  • Disrupting responsibilities in daily life (work, school, family) due to gambling
  • Attempting to recover lost money by gambling
  • Asking family members or friends for money to pay off gambling debts
  • Stealing money for gambling
  • Seeing gambling as a way to earn regular income

Not all of these symptoms are seen at the same time in gambling addicts. However, most of the symptoms listed above will be seen.

What Can You Do About Gambling Addiction?

There is no single miracle cure for gambling addiction. If you think you are an addict or want to avoid this risk, there is more than one thing you can do.

  • Choose casinos that follow Responsible Gambling rules. Casinos that follow these rules provide some self-exclusion tools that allow you to constrain the time and budget you spend on gambling. For example, you can limit the maximum amount of money you can deposit and lose, the types of games, and the time of play. Likewise, you can suspend your access to the casino for a certain period of time. Responsible Gambling consists of preventative measures and offers tools that can be used for self-control, reducing your chances of developing an addiction.
  • Almost every Western country has social organizations that help problem gamblers for free. For example, Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is an organization spread all over the United States and aims to reduce the symptoms of addiction with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In the United Kingdom, it is called GamCare. It is possible to find similar organizations in almost all European countries.
  • If you cannot find or prefer these organizations, you can seek help from a psychiatrist. Gambling addiction can be treated with therapy or SSRI drugs, and the doctor should decide which of these to use.
  • Be honest with your family members and friends. Whether you choose the treatment or prevention method, do not hide your addiction from your close circle. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and friends and family members who know about your addiction can help you fight it.

There is no single miracle cure for gambling addiction that works in a short time. As with all addictions, you need to make an effort and struggle over a long period of time to get rid of it. If you think gambling has become an addiction, asking for help is the most important thing you can do because this is not a problem you can solve alone.