Most of us enjoy betting on the outcomes of games and events every once in a while, and many people around the world gamble regularly in organised ways. For the larger percentage of these people such activities are a harmless pastime equal to that of other people buying collectable objects or spending money on their hobbies.
However, for the occasional player the act of leaving the casino, be it land-based or a website, becomes near-impossible. Gambling becomes an obsession and an uncontrollable addiction and the players keep betting even when they know that losing can make them lose their house, their car, their job or their family. At this point, gambling has become a psychological disorder and requires appropriate treatment.
Gambling addictions, which are impulse-control problems, come at different strengths. The lowest form of gambling addiction is problem gambling, when gambling is starting to become more than just a hobby. This could develop further into binge gambling, where the gambling obsession occurs every once in a while in uncontrollable binges but it stays dormant the rest of the time. A further type is compulsive gambling, when players cannot stop playing no matter the consequences to their life and well-being. Compulsive gambling is also known as pathological gambling since it is a full-blown psychological disorder which needs to be treated professionally.
While problem gambling is the lowest and lightest form of gambling addiction, it still creates disturbances in an individual's daily life, either by changing the player's relationship with the outside world, or by losing them significant amounts of money. When it goes this far, gambling loses its pastime flavor and becomes a dangerous addiction. Around 2% of the world's population is estimated to suffer from gambling addictions.
As with any other psychological disorders, the symptoms of gambling are not always so clear to see, especially since there are so many prevailing myths floating around that people related to gamblers seem to engage with. There are biological, as well as environmental factors contributing to any kind of addiction, including gambling.
The biological aspect focuses on the 'high' created by winning and the adrenaline rush that occurs during the process of betting and waiting for the results. Such heightened sensations can be addictive, to some personalities more than to others. This is part of the reason why not everyone who gambles gets addicted. Another part is that certain psychological disorders like schizophrenia can increase the likelihood of addiction to substances or activities such as gambling.
The environmental factors the influence gambling addiction are a lot more diverse. They can be direct or indirect causes to gambling, or the way in which the player considers gambling. There is also the belief that the longer one plays the more chance they have of winning. This feeling that the player deserves a win 'any day now' is what pushes many players to keep playing, despite the fact that the chances of winning are always the same, regardless of whether this is the first or the millionth time the player has bet on the same number or clicked the same button.
It has also been proven that, while the availability of gambling does not affect addiction, the presence of faster-paced games can be more attractive and addicting. The excitement connected to slot machines is more addictive than betting on the national lottery once a week.
The ways in which gambling addiction manifests itself will vary from player to player and might be easy to ignore or not spot at first, especially since most symptoms of an addiction are easy to rationalize. However, there are some factors that will reoccur among most gamblers. One such factor is the player's growing disregard for family, work, or social activities they have regularly been a part of in the past. Their work might begin suffering, their social relationships become strained, their family members might start feeling ignored or unwanted. These would be easy symptoms to explain with other causes such as stress or pressure from an outside source, which is why they are often ignored until it is too late. Such neglect of the basics of daily life is the most prevalent and damaging consequence of problem gambling.
Other symptoms are directly related to gambling: constantly thinking about gambling, lying about gambling activities or losses, trying to rectify losses by betting larger amounts, using illegal methods to fund the addiction, an inability to stop playing, using gambling as an escapism technique from daily life, and when not playing feeling a desperate desire to be back at the betting table. What is important to note is that a low frequency of gambling activity does not automatically mean there are no problems: problem gambling is mostly a state of mind, rather than the actual activity. As with any other psychological disorder, not all of the above problems need to be present at once for the individual to have a gambling problem, and a trained professional is usually needed for a conclusive diagnosis.
Treatment for gambling addictions is widely available around the globe but most gamblers do not seek a remedy for their addiction because they do not see it as a problem or they believe that they can stop by themselves. However, problem gambling can result in not just a financial but also a mental strain on the player as they fight to maintain a balance between their all-consuming addiction and their everyday life. This battle can lead to serious consequences, such as clinical depression, and it can also damage those individuals closest to the gambler. Thus, the significance of treatment should not be underestimated.
There is no one universal treatment as gambling problems are not a simple issue. The most popular and effective method is psychotherapy, where the gambling is treated as a psychological problem that impedes normal daily life. Moreover, since problem gambling is often caused by further underlying psychological problems, a psychologist can deal with the two problems together.
What usually follows or can replace the psychotherapy entirely is being part of a Gamblers' Anonymous organization which offers support in the form of a place where gamblers can express what they are going through without being judged. GA organizations also offer sponsorship where members are paired up in order for one member who has recovered to some extent to guide and support another who is just starting the process. The support of a GA organization is especially important for gamblers who are aware of the problem but feel that there is no way out, since being surrounded by other gamblers who are trying to get better provides them with hope and motivation. It also makes sure that members do not have to be alone, as being alone exacerbates the desire to give in to the addiction.
If the affected is a close friend or family member, it is important to speak to them carefully, making them conscious of the problem without pushing them to do anything about it or judging them. Gamblers are often aware if they have reached a critical time in their addiction but are not sure who to turn to for help. Information is widely available both online and in different paper forms, so the first step towards health for both gamblers and their close friends and family is informing themselves on the different steps that can be taken and the resources available.
Beyond psychologists and traditional Gamblers' Anonymous organizations there are many other organizations and sources that offer help to gambling addicts. There are also gambling helplines that offer information by phone for those who are not ready to face other people with the same problem or who need emergency reassurance at times when they cannot reach a psychologist or a GA meeting. A sponsor does a similar job. Finally, there are also rehabilitation centers throughout the states where gamblers can close themselves away from temptation for as long as they need to get better.
Some of the organizations that can help are the following:
National Council on Problem Gambling (www.ncpgambling.org) This is an organization that offers support, help, information and a 24/7 anonymous helpline for problem gambling.
Gamblers' Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/) This website locates the closest GA meeting to the gambler who needs help, and offers information on gambling addiction.
Gambling Therapy (www.gamblingtherapy.org/en/who-are-gambling-therapy) This is a website that offers anonymous online help and support to addicts anywhere on the planet.