A trip to Vegas or Atlantic City. An online diversion when you’re bored. A friendly poker game among friends. In most cases, a little gambling here and there is not a big deal.
People can take it or leave it, usually enjoying a drink or two and other indulgent behaviors at the same time without experiencing any harm worse than a hangover and a little financial belt tightening the following month.
But some people gamble and can’t leave it. They develop a compulsive need to keep gambling – even when they lose everything and continue to go into debt. According to Medical News Today, problem gambling and gambling addictions often co-occur with other debilitating issues as well, including:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Anxiety disorders
- Intestinal disorders, migraines and other medical issues
How do you know when your loved one’s gambling has crossed over from a harmless recreation to a problem that may require treatment?
Signs of a Gambling Problem
Gambling, like other addiction issues, is a progressive disorder. That is, it is rarely an issue that develops overnight. Some signs that the behavior has become a serious problem that may require treatment include:
- Obsessively thinking about gambling
- Lying about gambling or how much money was gambled or lost
- Making desperate choices to come up with more money to gamble
- Compulsively gambling more and more money even with less money in hand
- Irrational belief that they will be able to win back the money lost
- Increasingly higher amounts of debt
- Feeling guilty after gambling
- Stress-related health problems (e.g., insomnia, migraines, intestinal issues)
- Continuing to gamble despite mounting problems caused by the behavior
- Becoming agitated or irritable when trying to avoid gambling
- Inability to stop gambling despite honest attempts to avoid the behavior
Gambling is defined as an emotional issue rather than a financial decision, despite the negative financial impact of continuing to gamble in the face of heavy loss.
Causes of Problem Gambling
There is no one specific cause of gambling addiction or problem gambling. Rather, like all addictions, it is often the result of a number of different factors. A gambling problem can occur as a result of any combination of the following:
- A genetic predisposition to addiction
- Permissive environment
- Co-occurring mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety)
- Co-occurring substance abuse or addiction disorder
- Early age of first experiences gambling
Additionally, a traumatic or difficult event in someone’s life can trigger addictive behaviors, including divorce, loss of a loved one, job stress, retirement and other big changes.
- Types of Gambling
- Frequency of Gambling
- Co-occurring Substance Abuse Problem
- Effects of an Untreated Gambling Problem
Just like no one type of alcohol is more addictive than another, and an alcoholic can use beer or liquor or wine to fuel their addiction, all types of gambling from slot machines to blackjack to card games can trigger an addiction or gambling problem. However, it has been found that certain types of games that require a quick response time and fast wagering decisions may be more addictive, causing people to compulsively gamble more and more money.
The frequency with which someone gambles doesn’t necessarily indicate whether or not the behavior is a problem. Some people can gamble regularly yet not gamble so much that they experience negative consequences as a result – and some people may gamble in binges and experience a devastating addiction and related problems as a result.
Substance abuse often goes hand in hand with gambling. Drinks flow freely in casinos, and they are free of charge to patrons who are putting their money down at the tables or into the slot machines. For people who spend a great deal of time in the casinos due to a gambling problem – especially as the stress mounts – it’s easy to develop an alcohol abuse problem almost by default.
One issue can be a trigger for the other. For example, those who try to quit drinking but don’t address the gambling issue may find that they are unable to avoid taking a drink when they hit the casinos. Similarly, those who try to stop gambling but don’t address the drinking problem may be unable to manage the compulsion to gamble when they are under the influence. It’s important for people who struggle with gambling as well as drinking or drug use to seek treatment for both disorders at the same time.
People who are unable to stop gambling will experience any number of life-altering problems as a result of the financial loss. Many people:
- Lose their jobs when they go on gambling binges and don’t show up to work for days at a time or come in so disheveled and distraught over their loss that they can’t concentrate
- Lose their marriage when trust is broken and the financial loss impacts the entire family’s future
- Lose their home when they are unable to pay the mortgage
- Lose their health because they are struggling with mental and physical health problems as a result of the stress, guilt and worry associated with the gambling problem
Help Is Available
Just like any addiction can be treated, problem gambling can be addressed in treatment. Though few people enter residential treatment for the problem or require medications to deal with cravings, they do benefit from:
- Intensive therapy to address issues driving their compulsion to gamble
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health issue
- Treatment for co-occurring substance abuse treatment problems
- Peer support of others seeking treatment for gambling addiction
- Relapse prevention planning and assistance
- Long-term follow-up and aftercare support
Is someone you love struggling with a gambling problem or gambling addiction? Are you? Treatment is available today. Please call us, and we can help you figure out how to get started.