Definition of Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction or compulsive gambling is the inability to stop gambling when losses begin to take a toll on relationships, finances, and career. Gambling addiction often co-occurs with alcohol abuse or drug addiction.
With games of chance everywhere, TV ads touting what you can do if you win the Lotto, billboards and TV ads marketing the excitement of casinos, sports bets, track betting, off-track betting, Internet gambling and more, there’s no shortage of opportunities to win or lose money. Most Americans are able to gamble responsibly. According to statistics from Gamblers Anonymous, approximately 85 percent of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their lives, while an estimated 60 percent have gambled in the past year.
But others get in over their head on a consistent basis. They have what is called a pathological gambling problem, or compulsive gambling, or they may be a problem gambler. Gamblers Anonymous says an estimated 2 million U.S. adults are pathological gamblers and another 4 to 6 million are problem gamblers. That’s a huge chunk of the population with a big problem gambling. How can you tell if someone you love or care about – your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker – has crossed the line from responsible, casual gaming into a full-blown gambling addiction?
Telltale Signs of a Problem with Gambling
Not every problem or compulsive gambler will exhibit all of the following symptoms or signs, but they will undoubtedly have several of them. Recognize that the deeper the addiction to gambling, the more dysfunctional his or her life becomes. Some signs of a pathological gambling problem are:
Secretive about money
It takes a lot to finance a gambling problem. Money has to come from somewhere. A gambling addict is very secretive about where his or her money goes, glossing over any questions, minimizing any financial problems, anything to get others off the subject of where the money’s gone. A gambling spouse may suddenly want to take over the household finances, and bank accounts may mysteriously dwindle even though the income and bills remain constant. Possessions may also start to disappear, or there are unexpected cash advances showing up on the credit cards, or emergency loans are taken out.
Lies and defensiveness
When someone has a serious problem with gambling, they lie about what they’re doing, the extent to which they’re into gambling, how much they’ve lost. Defensiveness increases dramatically, with the gambler seeking to throw those who are concerned about their gambling habit off the discussion. “I didn’t gamble. I lent money to a friend.” “I don’t have a problem. What are you talking about?” “Stay out of my business.” “I have it under control. There’s nothing to worry about.” – Any of these sound familiar? They’re a sure sign it’s just the opposite of what the gambler says.
Constantly talking/thinking about gambling
A compulsive gambler loves all aspects of gambling. Whether it is statistics, odds of winning certain games, strategies, chatting up strangers at the bar and casually mentioning which team has the best chance to win, stories of the Big Win, places with the biggest jackpots – all are fodder for conversation and endless discussion. The problem gambler can’t stop thinking about gambling. It’s in his blood, always there, always calling to him to get back in the game. Naturally, he seeks to engage others with like passion.
For the compulsive gambler, there’s nothing like the rush of adrenalin you get when you win. It’s a euphoria, a high, similar to that which any addict experiences – drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever – and that keeps them coming back for more.
Love the scene
For many problem gamblers, it’s the lure of the lifestyle, the gambling scene – the sound of the slots, the bells going off for a win, the smell of the cards at the tables, the sights, sounds and action at the casinos, the heart-pounding excitement at the track, the luck of the draw, and on and on. They want to be where the action is. They can’t miss the opportunity to gamble, because they might hit it big this time. Today will be better than yesterday, and they have to be on the scene for it to happen. Even if it’s Internet gambling, you can’t win if you don’t play. Coincidentally, that’s one of the big marketing phrases for the Lotto…
Can’t stay away
Similarly, the problem gambler can’t just stay away from gambling. They’re drawn like a moth to a flame, seeking – despite best intentions – the bright lights, the sounds, and the chance of winning. They may find themselves showing up at the casino or sports betting spot without realizing it. Perhaps they were on an errand and somehow just showed up. That’s a true problem gambler.
Keep gambling despite heavy losses
Big losses don’t deter the problem or pathological gambler. They feel compelled to gamble again in order to make up the loss. Surely it will be in the next roll of the dice, the next hand, the next touchdown… As the gambler gets more in the hole, the more desperate he or she becomes, and the less able to control their urge to gamble. When they run out of money and can’t get any more credit at the casino, they’ll leave only until they figure out where to get more money to gamble. It’s that simple. They live to gamble. They can’t quit.
Guilt, shame, remorse
After gambling and losing big, the problem gambler will often express shame, feel guilty, say they feel remorse – and that they’ll quit. They promise to give up gambling. They may cry, become depressed, refuse to talk, drink or smoke heavily, or use painkillers and other drugs. But the expressions of guilt, shame and remorse are only temporary. Before long, the problem gambler is right back at it.
Stealing, borrowing, selling off possessions
Desperate for money to gamble, the problem gambler often resorts to selling off anything and everything – memorabilia, sports equipment, antiques, clothing, electronics, cameras, computers, jewelry – whatever he or she can easily get hold of and cart off. When that source is depleted, next comes borrowing from family, friends, and co-workers – or taking out loans, even from loan sharks. Stealing from friends, family and strangers is also common. The more deeply in the hole the gambler is, the more likely these activities will occur.
Neglecting family responsibilities
It’s hard for the problem gambler to keep things sorted out when all they think about is gambling. First to suffer is the family. Pretty soon, the gambler starts missing family meals and get-togethers, neglects to pay the bills – or uses money allocated for bill-paying to gamble. The problem gambler fails to show up at the children’s sports and school activities, doesn’t spend time with them, and is emotionally detached from anything related to the family. In effect, the problem gambler only sleeps at home, for all the good his or her presence is on the family. The opposite is true. The gambler’s addiction is costing everyone in the family dearly.
Trouble at work
Naturally, the problem gambler is bound to get into trouble at work. Whether it’s missing an important deadline, blowing a business presentation, showing up late or not at all – all of these have consequences. The gambler’s co-workers, immediate supervisor and others notice. Performance reviews are affected, possibly resulting in a lost opportunity or promotion. The gambler may even be threatened with dismissal or get fired. The prospect of losing the source of income may temporarily scare the gambler into steering clear of gambling, but it won’t last. The lure is too strong.
Gambling to change mood
Hoping to lift depression or gambling to celebrate, the problem gambler uses any excuse to get out there and gamble. Just like any other addictive substance, however, the high soon wears off. The compulsive gambler is left even more depressed, anxious, worried – and has to gamble more to try to recapture the high.
In extreme cases, the pathological or compulsive gambler may have destroyed so much of the family relationship, lost so much money and caused so many problems that suicidal thoughts occur. When the gambler feels there is no other way out except their own death, they’ve reached the absolute bottom. Any mention or display of such intentions by the compulsive gambler must be taken very seriously. Immediate help is necessary.
What To Do About Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction, just like addiction to alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, sex and other addictive behaviors, is a disorder of impulse control. The addicted gambler continues to gamble despite all negative consequences to physical and mental health, work, family and social relationships, and any scrapes with the law. They may mean to quit, even profess their intention to quit – but they can’t, at least, not on their own. But gambling addiction and problem gambling are treatable.
Recognizing the person has a gambling addiction or problem and seeking treatment to help overcome it is a critical step on the road to recovery. If you, or one you love or care about, has a gambling problem and is ready to seek treatment, help is available through a 24-hour referral hotline at the National Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-522-4700. Gamblers Anonymous, a nationwide 12-step meeting support network, provides assistance for gamblers who want to overcome a gambling problem.
There’s also help for family members of the gambler through the 12-step Gam-Anon program.
If the gambler is suicidal, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Remember, too, that change won’t occur overnight. Problem gambling and gambling addiction took time to develop, and will take considerable time and dedication to overcome. With treatment, attendance and participation in support-group meetings in recovery, there is every hope that the problem gambler and compulsive gambler can overcome their addiction.
More Information on Compulsive Gambling
Resource: Problem Gambling Addiction