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Gambling Addiction: What, Why & How?

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Nov 24, 2021

Gambling Addiction: What, Why & How?

Addiction is anything that you do or take to the point that it affects both your judgement and your day-to-day life. Some people are addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, while others to shopping and video games. When gambling becomes more important than anything else—family, work, school, etc.—it's time to seek help. Learn the signs of compulsive gambling, its causes, and where pathological gamblers can get help.

What is a Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, which is also known as problem gambling, refers to a range of behaviours where individuals feel out of control with their underlying desire to gamble. When someone feels like they cannot stop gambling no matter what the cost, or how hard they try, this may be indicative of an addiction.

In Australia, more than 1 in 10 people over the age of 16 are at risk of developing a gambling problem. Between 2007 and 2008, many Australians lost $11 billion to gambling, or about $630 per person. Since around half of this was spent on pokies alone, it's not hard to see why they're a contributing factor in gambling addiction.

Unfortunately, not everybody who gambles does so responsibly and there is a fine line between spending a bit of time with friends playing poker or lotto and becoming an addicted gambler. The main reason that people gamble is for entertainment. That being said, many people also gamble as a way to boost their own self-confidence, improve their moods and escape from stress and anxiety experienced in everyday life.

Gambling can be extremely addicting and, like any other addiction, can be very hard to quit. Unfortunately many pokies and gambling ads target those that may be most likely to become addicted: young men.

Common Signs of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is characterized by an inability to resist the compulsion to gamble, even when the person knows that they are hurting themselves or others. Some of the warning signs of a gambling disorder include:

  • Always in need of large amounts of money
  • Constantly thinking of how to get more gambling money
  • Uncontrollable urge to steal in order to get extra money for gambling activities
  • Skipping work or school to gamble
  • Huge debts and unpaid credit card statements
  • Spending large amounts of time at casinos or in online gambling
  • Compulsive lying about how much money one has spent or won while gambling
  • Attempting to control, cut back on or stop gambling but being unsuccessful
  • Feeling depressed when they have not been able to gamble for a period of time

Gambling addicts often experience withdrawal symptoms when not allowed access to casinos or betting agencies. These can include irritability, restlessness and anxiety

Causes and Risk Factors for Gambling Addiction

Environmental factors and genetic predisposition play a major role in gambling addiction. If a father or mother has a problem with gambling, their child has an even greater risk of becoming addicted themselves, especially if they've suffered neglect or domestic violence at the hands of their gambling parents. Men are more likely than women to become addicts because they were once considered the breadwinner in society.

Gambling addiction statistics show that problem gambling is more prevalent in men than women and more common among the unemployed; 9.5% of people without jobs suffer from some form of gambling problem, compared to 3.9% of people who work full-time. Unemployed individuals are more at risk because they have additional time on their hands to gamble frequently when no longer working, especially if they're unable to secure another job soon after being fired or laid off. 

Losses suffered by gamblers trying to win back money lost on previous bets can lead to increasing amounts of debt and feelings of shame and guilt that push some people into depression.

Depression is linked closely with problem gamblers because it often arises from feelings of guilt or low self-esteem that result from excessive recreational gambling habits. Approximately half the individuals diagnosed with clinical depression also meet the criteria for being compulsive gamblers, so commonality does exist between gambling and mental health. In fact, a 2010 survey by the Australian Psychological Society found that 1 in 20 Australians (approximately 2.2 million people) had a gambling problem and that many of these people had an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

In addition, statistics show that 80% of gambling addicts often resort to alcohol or substance abuse as a way of coping with their thoughts and feelings.

In other cases, people who have a history of psychological disorders, such as bipolar disorder or panic attacks, may also find themselves addicted to poker machines because they provide a sense of control over the environment.

While a majority of people with gambling problems reported wanting to change and renew their lives, only one third have actually sought help.

Facts about gambling addiction (The Recovery Village)Source: The Recovery Village

Effects of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction may lead to devastating effects such as significant financial consequences. Gambling addicts may rationally know that they should stop gambling, but find themselves unable to do so despite the consequences. In many cases, these consequences can be separated into two categories:

Those that directly result from gambling itself such as financial issues
Those resulting from the addict's attempts to conceal their addiction, for example by lying to other family members or friends.

Having a loved one who is addicted to gambling can also negatively impact family members and partners due to an increased level of stress and a lack of trust in relationships. What's worse, 50% of pathological gamblers commit felony and other crimes.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

The first step towards recovery should always be seeking help from a trained mental health professional such as a psychologist or counsellor. For those seeking treatment from a psychologist, there are two different types available: one-on-one counselling and group therapy. Both of these can be extremely effective for gambling addicts who need support and guidance to quit gambling once and for all.

When it comes to treating gambling addiction, studies show that behavioural therapy is most effective when part of a comprehensive treatment program, which also includes:

Joining self-help groups is another way for people with gambling addiction to get on the road to recovery.

A gambling addiction can have dire financial consequences and ruin lives, so it should not be taken lightly. Because they've been tricked into believing that their skills as gamblers can enable them to keep their winning streak or regain their losses, those suffering from gambling addiction will need all the help they can get from their loved ones and a reliable treatment program.

FAQs About Gambling Addiction

Can a gambler change?

A gambler who is unwilling to change cannot be changed. However, for one who is 100% committed to changing their behaviour, there is an opportunity to reverse the adverse consequences of their actions and decisions.

What does gambling do to your brain?

Gambling compulsively produces a surge in the brain's defensive reaction, which weakens its reward system, eventually reducing the level of pleasure felt by compulsive gamblers. In order to trigger its reward system, the brain becomes conditioned to reward itself with more dopamine through more gambling activities.

What is the root cause of gambling addiction?

A gambling addiction is believed to be influenced by one's environment and family, but high levels of stress may also contribute to it. The majority of gambling addicts gamble to cope with the constant pressure in their lives, but when they become obsessed with it, it becomes an addiction.

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