Gambling Addiction Symptoms
For many people, gambling is a bit of harmless fun that provides a temporary rush when we believe that we might win a substantial amount of money.
While we are disappointed when we don’t win, we often forget about it and move on. However, sometimes people go in search of that temporary high and continue to gamble even if they don’t have enough money to do so or know that gambling will hurt those around them. This is when it becomes an addiction.
Often, people who develop an addiction to gambling are otherwise responsible.
However, there are certain risk factors to look out for in people that you fear might have developed a gambling habit. These are:
- Depression or anxiety
- Stressful work environment
- Unhappy relationships or home life
- Co-occurring mental health issues
- Socialising with other people with a gambling addiction
Gambling addiction is characterised by the willingness to risk losing something you value in the hope of gaining something of a higher value. It is classed as a type of impulse control disorder because the person gambling knows that they are hurting people and risk losing everything, but they have little or no control over their urges.
What causes a gambling addiction isn’t very well understood, however, studies have shown that people with co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or substance use disorders are more at risk of developing an addiction to gambling (1).
Some other reasons why people might start gambling is to escape a stressful situation such as a stressful job or an unhappy relationship.
Gambling rarely begins as a result of financial strain, instead, it is a behavioural disorder that leads to financial strain.
What are the symptoms of gambling addiction?
Gambling is a huge business, with many people visiting casinos, doing the lottery, or placing online bets every day in the hopes of winning big money.
However, most people set a limit on the amount they are willing to spend. Most online gambling sites also give you the opportunity to set limits for yourself, so you get a reminder when you have reached that limit.
But what happens when someone doesn’t set a limit? Or ignores the limits that they have set for themselves?
If you believe that you or someone you know may have developed an addiction to gambling, some of the main signs to look out for are:
- Lying about your whereabouts when you are visiting a casino or betting shop
- Constantly thinking about when you can gamble next
- Needing to gamble with larger amounts of money to feel the excitement
- Asking friends and family to borrow money to pay back what you owe
- Risking important things such as your car or house to enable your gambling
- Feeling the need to gamble more to try to win back what you’ve lost
- Stealing in order to get money for gambling or to pay off debts
- Continuing to gamble even if it means losing your loved ones, such as your spouse
- Telling yourself that this will be the last time you gamble, only to gamble again soon after
- Personal problems such as job loss as a result of your gambling
- Feeling restless or irritable if you have not gambled recently
- Refusing to admit that you have a problem either to yourself or when you are confronted
Are there different types of gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction runs on a scale ranging from gambling for fun – where the person can stop at any time, to problem gambling – where the person is gambling even when they know that it is problematic, to pathological gambling – where they are in over their heads and cannot see a way out but continue to gamble in the hope of a big win to end their troubles (2).
Side-effects of a gambling addiction
While gambling can have a negative effect on personal relationships, jobs, and financial status, it also comes with a host of emotional and physical side effects if it is left untreated for too long.
Emotional side effects of gambling:
- Suicidal tendencies
Physical side effects of gambling:
- Weight loss or weight gain due to stress
- Skin rashes
- Dark circles under eyes
- Pale skin
When to get help for a gambling addiction
If you recognise any of the above symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it is time to seek treatment.
People may not always seek out treatment for gambling addiction as they don’t believe it to be as detrimental to their health as a substance use disorder. However, gambling is a very dangerous and problematic illness that can destroy your life the same way any other addiction can.
Getting help as soon as possible for your gambling addiction will make overcoming the addiction easier, ease your anxiety sooner and get you back to your normal life quicker.
What treatment is available for a gambling addiction?
The first step in overcoming a gambling addiction is admitting that you have a problem. This may be difficult, and you may feel ashamed or embarrassed, but it is important to understand that it takes a great deal of strength to reach out and ask for help. You are more likely to relapse if you try to do it on your own.
There is a range of treatments available to help you overcome your gambling addiction. Peer support groups such as GamCare (3) offers free advice and telephone counselling to anyone struggling with a gambling addiction.
If your gambling addiction began as a result of anxiety or depression, you should visit your healthcare provider and ask for mood stabilisers such as antidepressants. Explain that you have spiralled into addiction and fear that it will only get worse if you cannot improve your mood. Often, dealing with the root cause makes dealing with everything else a little bit easier.
Another way to understand the root cause of your addiction is one-to-one counselling or group therapy. By talking through your problems, you often come across hidden issues that you might not have realised that you had and can begin to heal from them by talking about them.
Joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous (4) is another good idea as it gives you an emotional support network of people who understand exactly what you are going through.
These are often free with only a donation required and can be invaluable if you feel you have nowhere else to turn or have no one else who understands what you are going through. These groups often offer a mentor program as well so you will always have someone to call if you feel that you are going to relapse.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is beneficial for any addiction as it aims to change the way you approach certain behaviours and can help you understand what triggers your need to gamble.