Around 80% of Americans gamble every year. Some people can gamble without getting hooked. But others experience the dark side of gambling when it no longer is just a game.
The gambling world has exploded with the rise of the internet, and now it reaches more people than ever. It is no longer just casinos and slot machines.
Gambling also includes the lottery, sport, and online betting. Even some online games can involve gambling if in-app purchases are involved.
Do you suspect you or a loved one has a problem with gambling? You are not alone. Gambling addiction and problem gambling affect 2.6% of the population, which is roughly 10 million people.
Untreated, gambling addiction leads to many negative consequences. Thankfully there are ways to overcome gambling addiction. Read below to learn about getting help with gambling addiction and problem gambling.
Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling
Gambling addiction and problem gambling are used interchangeably, but there are some differences. If you know the differences, you can identify your problem. And then, you can determine what steps you should take first to get help.
Signs of Problem Gambling
Are the negative consequences of gambling outweighing the positives? Problem gambling is when your gambling behavior begins to impact your life. Signs of problem gambling include:
Spending more on gambling
Devoting more time to gambling
Ignoring the negative consequences of gambling
However, problem gambling behavior can lead to gambling addiction if the behavior continues. It can be easy to think you are in control, but gambling will continue to take over. You want to stop the negative consequences gambling is having on your life before it worsens.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) categorizes gambling as an addictive disorder, similar to drug and alcohol addiction. DSM-5 defines the addiction as experiencing four or more symptoms over 12 months:
Gambling is a craving you cannot ignore
Hiding your gambling habits
Borrowing money to gamble and getting into debt
Always thinking about gambling
Loved one’s expressing worry
Withdrawal symptoms will show up through mood changes. You might feel anxious, restless, or irritable. Loved ones often describe personality changes in the person.
Problem gambling does overlap with addiction, but gambling addiction is a diagnosis. You keep gambling no matter what the consequences are for you, your loved ones, and your finances.
Understand Gambling Risk Factors
Why do some people become addicted to gambling, but others do not? Various factors can cause gambling addiction and problem gambling.
It helps to understand the causes and recognize which ones resonate.
Maybe you gamble for the adrenaline rush. Other people gamble to distract themselves from difficult feelings, such as stress. Gambling provides a quick way to escape, but it also fuels the addictive cycle, as you want more.
Cognitive dissonance can also fuel a gambling disorder. When two or more values clash, a person adjusts their thinking to justify their behavior.
Gambling problems, mental health, and substance abuse disorders can also co-occur. A study found 62 percent of gamblers had a co-occurring psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or depression. It can also be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar.
Gambling involves risk and uncertainty, which triggers dopamine in the brain. Dopamine releases during enjoyable activities and when there is a potential reward. It can create a gambling high, occurring in similar brain areas to drugs and other substances.
Over time you can become desensitized to dopamine release if you repeatedly gamble. It is what creates the urge to gamble no matter what- even if you continue to lose.
It also causes withdrawal symptoms such as irritability when a person first stops gambling. Dopamine levels return to normal or lower levels, so the person craves a return to the high.
Younger people are more at risk of developing gambling addiction and problem gambling. They now have more access than ever to gambling. They can be vulnerable to advertisements that portray gambling as safe.
Social and Environmental Factors
People often use gambling to escape isolation and loneliness. Some people have peer pressure and will seek peer approval by gambling. If a person grew up in an environment where problem gambling was acceptable, they might be more vulnerable.
Is Gambling Dangerous?
Not everyone develops a gambling addiction, but gambling can be dangerous. It can be harmful to physical and psychological health, with serious financial consequences.
Gambling is designed to keep you hooked. It uses Variable Ratio Reinforcement (VRRS), which offers unpredictable amounts of rewards.
The result? You keep playing.
The environment also hooks you in, with bright lights, music, and colors. Online pop-ups may occur to keep you playing a little longer.
Anyone can develop gambling addiction and problem gambling. It is a severe addiction that can take over your life.
Identify Your Triggers
Once you understand you have a gambling addiction, you can prevent relapse. Like any addiction recovery, it helps to avoid triggers and temptations to gamble. Think about what places, activities, and people encourage you to gamble.
For example, a trigger might be when you drink a lot of alcohol or visit a particular friend. Or, you might want to choose a different route home from work to avoid the casino. Some people hand over financial control to their loved ones, so they do not have access to credit cards.
It can feel overwhelming to let go of some control, as the addiction can feel out of control too. However, you are taking charge of your addiction recovery by removing potential triggers.
Other Self-Help Steps
Overcoming problem gambling and addiction recovery can involve self-help steps.
Start paying attention to your cravings and postpone gambling, no matter how intense the urge is. It will eventually pass, which shows you still have control. Another way to delay gambling is to reach out to a friend or find an alternative outlet, such as:
Other ways to postpone gambling is to ring a friend or find alternative outlets, such as:
Physical activity such as yoga
Seeing loved ones and friends who do not gamble
These alternative outlets can help you avoid triggers and manage cravings. They are healthy outlets that can also improve your mood!
You can also write a list of the consequences of gambling that you can look at whenever you have an urge to gamble. Consequences can include:
Financial difficulties that occur
How you feel after lying
Emotional pain your loved ones or you experience
Shame and guilt can lead to relapse if overused, but a quick reminder can help motivate you to stay on track.
If you recognize problem gambling early, self-help steps can make a big difference. But once gambling becomes an addiction, know it is normal to need extra support to overcome it.
Reach Out To Loved Ones
If you feel comfortable, you can confide in a friend or family member. It is helpful to have a community around you when you go through addiction recovery. They may be able to support you attend a first therapy session or support group.
Join a Support Group
Joining a support group is one of the first steps you can take to get help. There are different support groups, so you can find one that aligns with your values. All groups offer peer support and guidance from people with similar backgrounds.
Gamblers Anonymous has a 12-step model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There are different meetings available, such as closed meetings for problem gamblers. Or you can attend an open one when loved ones can also participate in.
Support groups offer a safe space to share experiences but also work toward recovery. It can be a relief to know you are not alone with your gambling addiction and can share without judgment.
Use Gambling Addiction Resources
There are a lot of gambling addiction resources online to help you. For example, there are toolkits, others sharing experiences, and even eBooks to try.
There is guidance for loved ones too. It is hard to support someone with a gambling problem, especially if it is your child or partner. These tools are invaluable to learn how to help them, and yourself, in the best possible way.
There are also in-person resources and support hubs to try. Use our search tool for gambling addiction resources in New York State.
Part of addiction recovery often involves professional support, such as therapy.
A common therapy for gambling addiction is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT helps you change gambling thoughts and behaviors. For example, maybe you are in a cycle of chasing losses, convincing yourself next time will be different.
You learn how to challenge this thought. You can then replace gambling with practical solutions to manage cravings and triggers.
Family therapy can help heal family relationships impacted by gambling addiction. It can also help guide loved ones on how best to support you.
There are other types of therapy, such as psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. You may get recommended a specific treatment or make your own choice.
Ask About Medications
When gambling links to a mental health issue, such as depression, you may be prescribed medication. The medication can help you focus on mental health and gambling addiction recovery. Your primary care physician or rehab care team will assess whether you need medication.
Consider Rehab Addiction Recovery
There are some gambling addiction rehabilitation options. You may be an inpatient and also stay at the facility while undergoing treatment. Usually, there is a combination of treatments, such as group and individual therapy.
There are outpatient options, too, so you can attend a program while staying at your own home. Outpatient and inpatient provide many benefits to recover from gambling addiction. You may get told you need an inpatient program, or you may decide.
Seek Help for Gambling Addiction
Now you know the many interventions that can help you get help for gambling addiction. But how do you get the help?
You can talk to your primary care physician or a loved one if you feel comfortable. Your primary care physician can help assess if you have a gambling addiction and recommend a treatment.
And you plan with your loved one how they can best support you.
Alternatively, you can contact a gambling support service directly to get started. There are also helplines you can ring if you do not feel comfortable going in person.
Help for Loved Ones
If you suspect someone you care about has a gambling issue, it is hard to know where to begin.
You can reach out to your local Problem Gambling Resource Center and immediately connect with a trained professional ready to offer local resources to help you and your family. Do not be afraid to set boundaries to protect yourself, such as taking charge of finances. You have every right to feel safe, emotionally, and financially secure.
You can also talk to a loved one about their gambling issue. Focus on how the issue negatively impacts your own life, and share that you want to support them.
Also, consider if you are enabling any behavior, such as ignoring when money is going missing. Hold a loved one accountable for their behavior, so they can start to take responsibility.
If your loved one has confided in you, you can share these addiction resources. Also, try to listen without judgment. Let them know you are there for them and ask how they want to be supported.
Overcoming Problem Gambling and Addiction
One of the hardest steps to overcoming gambling addiction and problem gambling is recognizing you have an issue. It takes courage and strength to reach acceptance. Once you are there, you can move to the next stage of your recovery journey: seeking help.
Gambling addiction is isolating and overwhelming, but help is out there. You can and will beat your addiction and reclaim your life with the proper support.
If you need gambling addiction and problem gambling support, call us on 518-867-4084. Alternatively, you can contact us by email. We are here to support you.