Over the last 20 years or so, gambling has become more popular and much more accessible. The internet has brought casinos, book makers, bingo and fruit machines to our desktops at work and at home, to our smart phones and to our laptops.
While still being out there on the high street, gambling can now be accessed from almost anywhere. People have different reasons for gambling, but generally, people simply want to try their luck from time to time to have fun and with the hope winning.
Even if they do not win, they still have fun trying. For the most part, gambling is just a fun source of entertainment. However, around 1.7% of gamblers develop a gambling problem.
To these compulsive few people, gambling is no longer just a bit of fun, it has become a habit. One which can become all-consuming and turn into very serious problem.
Gambling addiction is not like other addictions. There will often be no physical or obvious signs that a person is a compulsive gambler. However, as time goes on the gambling addict and those who come into regular contact them will start to be affected.
It can wreck their finances, their family relationships, and their physical and mental health. A gambler will develop coping mechanisms to hide what they are doing.
They will become expert at deception and lying, borrowing money from different people and places, they may gamble in different locations or using different accounts in order not to be found out.
Dishonesty: People who have gambling problems will try to hide it from the people around them. They will lie to their friends, families, work colleagues, partners and friends in order to hide the reality of what they are doing.
Chasing their losses: Some gamblers are convinced that they can win back the money they have lost and in order to do that they have to keep going back because in the end a jackpot win has to come along (doesn’t it?).
They might claim that once they have a big win, that they will stop. The reality is different and they end up losing more and more. Some will keep increasing their already growing debts.
Borrowing money: When a compulsive gambler runs out of money, they will borrow it from their family, friends, work mates, or even loan sharks, without always admitting the real reason they need it. They may also persuade other people to pay their gambling debts.
The push credit cards limits up, take out second mortgages or obtain loans from increasingly dubious lenders – including loan sharks. They may sell or pawn their or their family’s possessions.
Doubling up: Just like a drug addict or a problem drinker, gamblers will begin to need more from gambling in order to keep enjoying it. In other words, they have to bet more and more money to get the kind of rush they want. Unfortunately, the more they bet, the more they lose.
It becomes an obsession: When this happens, gamblers cannot stop thinking about gambling. It occupies their mind day and night. Any reason is a reason to go gambling, and they will try many different ways to get the money they need. Gambling has become more important to the addict than other parts of their life.
They may start to miss work and appointments, or let friends and family down. Gambling can take control of the gambler where once they thought they were in control. Each waking moment may be occupied with finding the time, the money or a way to gamble.
Want to stop gambling but can’t: Most gamblers know they gamble too much, and want to give it up. They will try to stop and sometimes can for short periods of time. Like someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, they might become restless, irritable and discontent.
They become agitated, or tense if not gambling. So, without any support, they will give into the craving to bet again in order to feel better.
Gambling to forget: These gamblers play to distract themselves and forget their problems, and reduce their stress. They may suffer from low self-esteem because of past events. This can cause stress and anxiety which they find too uncomfortable to deal with and so, seek an escape.
They find that the only time that they feel comfortable is whilst they are gambling. After a while though, the gambling itself causes problems.
Stealing or committing fraud to gamble: Despite their losses, problem gamblers continue playing, and their finances keep getting worse. Borrowing money from family, friends, and co-workers is no longer enough.
To fund their habit and try to solve their problems by hitting the jackpot, they turn to misdeeds and crime.
Believing their own lies: Gamblers can become so addicted to the game and the hope to win it all back that they fall into ever-deeper financial, social, and professional trouble.
If they have had a big win early in their gambling careers, they may hang onto the idea that sooner or later that big win will come along again and then they will stop. The truth is that even if they win, it is never enough to satisfy them.
Gambling becomes the controller: Everything about their lives gradually revolves around and is affected by gambling. It puts their families, friendships, studies, jobs, and future career prospects at risk.
Look out for mood changes, anger and defensiveness when the subject is talked about. When a gambler has lost control, they will do anything to protect it from anyone who questions it.
Some of the most problematic gambling still takes place in the high street bookmakers. Not at the counter, but on the electronic machines or FOBT’s (fixed odds betting terminals). Playing roulette, anyone can bet up to £100 on a spin of the wheel.
This spin takes approximately 9 seconds. Online roulette is similar and likewise online fruit machines or ‘slots’. The intervals between spins becomes smaller, the stakes become higher and the gambler is lost in the chase. Have you noticed that casinos have no windows or clocks in them?
This helps to keep people there, unaware of the time of day passing them by as they play. They are surrounded by comfort and attractive staff who offer free refreshment to keep them at the card table or roulette wheel.
In the last year:
1. Have you bet more than you can afford to lose? Yes No
2. Have you needed to gamble larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement? Yes No
3. When you gambled, did you go back another day to win back the money you lost? Yes No
4. Have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble? Yes No
5. Have you felt you might have a problem with gambling? Yes No
6. Has gambling caused you any health problems, including stress or anxiety? Yes No
7. Have people criticized your betting or told you that you have a gambling problem, regardless of whether or not you think it’s true? Yes No
8. Has gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household? Yes No
9. Have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble? Yes No
If you answered ‘yes’ to more than one of these questions, then it could be that you need some help. If you answered ‘yes’ to several of them then your gambling has become problematic. Stopping may be hard, but with help it is achievable. Residential rehabilitation, online courses or talking therapy are some of the ways to beat an addiction, but as always the first step is the hardest and that is to reach out and ask for help.
Peter Hutt (MBACP) Addiction Counsellor (Brighton)www.peterhuttcounselling.com
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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