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The desire to gamble doesn’t ever interfere with some people’s thought processes, but for others, it’s a nagging, pulling desire that never goes away. Gambling addiction, also called the silent killer, is a terrible problem that affects somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the American adult population. Various factors increase the risk but one thing is always steady, the addiction itself is devastating no matter how old you are, how rich you are, how much support you have or how smart you may be.
What is Gambling Addiction
According to Skidmore College Human Services, “gambling takes many forms from horse to dog tracks, lotteries, slot machines, card games and the stock market but it always involves playing a game of chance for the stakes.” Some people can gamble without any real harm but others become pathological gamblers that cannot focus on anything but their next win.
Gambling addiction has three phases:
When a gambler wins, there is usually money and satiety involved. This often causes the individual to believe that there would be a great benefit in gambling some more. Next comes the loss in which the individual loses his money and becomes unhappy with the situation at hand. They gamble more and more in an effort to win back their losses. Finally, the individual has spent too much, is feel alienated from friends and family, has remorse and feels outcast by their decisions to gamble—this is the desperation phase of the addiction.
Signs & Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
Often times, gambling addiction goes unnoticed by others. The individual may not let others know that he or she is spending money or that they have a problem. If they are in control of their behaviors, it can be difficult for friends or family members to spot the problem. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of gambling addiction include:
- becoming preoccupied with gambling
- spending excessive time gambling or gaming
- selling possessions in order to acquire money to gamble
- stealing money to gamble
- borrowing money to gamble
- becoming financially irresponsible, losing bill money, or forgetting obligations
- denying gambling
- sneaking around to gamble
- lying about gambling
Recognizing Problem Gambling in a Loved One
If you suspect that someone you love may be gambling and may have a problem, it’s important to understand that this addiction affects the lives of more than just the user. You are equally affected if someone you love is gambling and putting you at financial risk. If you understand the symptoms to look out for, this will help you to better spot a gambling problem and to get help for someone you love. Signs that you should be on the look out for include:
- inability to explain where money went
- talking about gambling all the time
- always seeming preoccupied with gambling
- spending bill money on lottery tickets or gambling
- spending the last dollar on a game rather than saving the money
- acting unhappy or otherwise upset when not gambling
Dangers of Gambling Addiction
According to the State University of New York, “many families of pathological gamblers suffer from a variety of financial, physical, and emotional problems, including divorce, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and a range of other difficulties stemming from the severe financial hardship that commonly results from problem and pathological gambling.” Compulsive gambling often causes an array of hardship for the individual who gambles as well as for the family members and loved ones of the gambler too.
The dangers of gambling addiction include:
- financial burdens
- high debt
- suicidal thoughts and ideations
- behavioral problems
- domestic violence
Treatment for Gambling Addiction
According to a UCLA study, “the losses from gambling addiction – defined by mental health professionals as a brain disease at its most elemental form – have become so troubling that the state recently dedicated a total of $15 million for three years to fund treatment programs for any California resident who has the addiction or has been hurt by it, including family members of compulsive gamblers.” Treatment for gambling addiction is becoming more widely accepted as a necessity, and one that must be made accessible to those in need.
Most of the time, treatment for gambling addiction will include participation in Gambler’s Anonymous, a 12 step support group that focuses on helping those in recovery to find the supportive tools necessary for long term recovery. Counseling and behavioral therapy are also highly effective at helping those in recovery to restore stability into their lives.
During treatment, the patient will learn many different ways to cope with the desire to gamble and to prevent relapse. While it is completely normal to feel a continued urge to gamble even while in treatment or after treatment for gambling addiction, how the individual reacts to those urges will dictate their recovery. The following methods of coping and relapse prevention can help:
- seek support from friends or family
- seek support in a support group such as GA
- seek online support
- distract yourself by taking part in other activities
- take up a new hobby
- if you feel like gambling, wait an hour or two and then ask yourself if you still want to
- never gamble on the fly without first thinking about what you are doing
- educate yourself on the addiction and the relapse prevention techniques that are taught to you in treatment
- manage your money and stick to a tight budget
Gambling Addiction Recovery
Gambling addiction recovery is all about how you learn to cope with your desire to gamble without giving in to temptation. If you can figure out a solid and safe way to do this, and you can find the right level of support to help you stay in line, recovery will soon become a welcomed event in your life.
Recognize that gambling addiction is a behavioral disorder that is very difficult to overcome. The longer you are addicted, the more difficult you may find it to get past this part of your life—but in time, with help and support, you too can make a full recovery from gambling addiction.