How to Manage a Gambling Habit
If you ask someone to name different types of addictions, they will mostly likely answer drugs or alcohol. Statistics show that among addictions, these are the most common. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked that millions of people from around the world suffer from gambling addiction, be it at an online casino or land based. Around 1% of the US population is said to have a gambling addiction.
A gambling addiction is a described as a compulsion to keep on betting, even though the person is aware of the negative consequences. A compulsive gambler is thus someone who is addicted to the act of gambling.
Let us take a look at what causes gambling addiction, how to spot gambling addiction, and how we can, as individuals and as a society, help fight this phenomenon.
What Causes a Gambling Addiction?
Gambling as a form of recreation is enjoyed by billions of people around the globe. The overwhelming majority of them will all manage to gamble without getting addicted. They will be able to maintain control over their habits. However, for a tiny minority, the act of gambling will turn into an addiction.
Gambling addiction is recognized as a brain disease – a far cry from only a few decades ago when it was associated with greed and lack of willpower.
Why will some people develop a gambling problem, while others won’t?
What is the root of compulsive gambling behavior?
There are entire university departments dedicated to finding answers to these questions. Psychologists, anthropologists and other professionals spend their lives researching gambling addiction, including causes and consequences.
There is no clear cut answer.
But what researchers claim is that:
- Many people who develop a gambling addiction suffer from some type of mental health disorder (eg. personality disorder, eating disorder, stress-related disorder, mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.)
- A more controversial claim is that people who live within a 50 mile proximity of a casino have double the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction than those who don’t.
- It is also claimed that those who are unemployed or come from a low-income socio-economic group have a higher chance of developing gambling compulsion.
- Those who abuse substance are at a greater risk of becoming addicted to gambling. 30% of those who seek help for a substance abuse also meet the criteria as gambling addicts.
- Statistics show that the typical gambling addict is young, male, has a relative with a gambling addiction or other addictive disorder, has some type of mental health disorder and has a substance abuse disorder. That doesn’t mean that a woman, for example, can’t be a compulsive gambler. It just means that less are.
The Physical Link Between Gambling and Substance Abuse
What we also know is that gambling addiction is associated with the release of dopamine to the brain. Addictive substances such as cocaine release up to 10 times the normal amount of dopamine and thereby affect the brain’s reward system. The more you use these substances, the more your body learns to tolerate them and the more inhibited the release of natural dopamine becomes. This in turn, requires you to have more of the substance in order to get the rush of dopamine that you need to function.
In the same way, problem gamblers require more and more gambling activity in order to get that rush of pleasure provided by dopamine.
Common Signs of a Gambling Addiction
If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or someone else, you may be looking at a gambling addict.
A compulsive gambler will typically:
- Place bets that are larger or risker than normal
- Muse over past wins or particularly enjoyable gaming sessions
- Use gambling to distract themselves from other existing problems
- Isolate socially and avoid family/social gatherings
- Hide a gambling problem
- Have feelings of guilt about gambling
- Try to stop or control gambling habits and fail
- Experience unnatural and powerful urges to gamble
Assess Yourself for Problem Gambling
Ask yourself these questions below and see how many times you answer yes. The chances are that if you answer positively to even one of them, you are moving towards, or have already developed, a gambling addiction.
It’s important to state here that the assessment does not take the place of professional advice. It is simply an exercise for you to stop and think about your gambling habits. Later on in this guide, we will show you where to search for help if you feel the need.
- Have you ever missed school or work in order to gamble?
- Have you ever felt remorse after you’ve gambled?
- Have you ever felt that you absolutely had to gamble in order to win back money that you lost in your previous gambling outings or sessions?
- Have you ever gambled to get out of financial difficulties or to settle your debts?
- Have you ever borrowed money to pay for your gambling entertainment or habits?
- Have you ever gambled until you’ve run out money?
- Have you ever gambled over and beyond the time period that you set for yourself?
- Have you ever sold property (yours or someone else’s) to finance your gambling habits?
- Have you ever engaged in illegal activities to finance your gambling habits?
- Do you gamble as a means to escape (loss, loneliness, stress, boredom, anxiety)?
- Have you ever felt a strong urge to gamble after receiving significant news (good or bad)?
- Has gambling ever caused you distress or loss of sleep?
Myths about Problem Gambling
#1: To be considered a problem gambler, you need to gamble every single day.
As long as the gambling causes problems or is unhealthy to the gambler, it is considered problem gambling. It doesn’t matter how often the gambling takes place.
#2: A problem gambler is generally unintelligent and has a weak personality.
It has nothing to do with the person’s level of intelligence or personality. Some of the most intelligent, driven people have the potential to develop a gambling habit.
#3: If you have the money, what’s the problem with problem gambling?
Just because you can afford it, doesn’t mean you should do it excessively! Problem gambling can affect you at many levels. It can lead to loss of employment, depression and legal issues. It can also badly affect business and personal relationships.
#4: You should always help a problem gambler settle gambling debts.
In the long term, you’re just making things worse if you continue bailing out a problem gambler. The best thing to help a problem gambler is guide them with practical advice and try and find a solution to manage the gambling habit.
Gambling Addiction Treatment
Even if addicts recognize that they may have a gambling addiction, the majority may never go and seek help. This is because there is a certain stigma attached to gambling addiction. Sadly, as little as 3% of addicts in the US make the first move and get help for themselves.
Gambling addicts may use the act of gambling as a way to get relief from other problems in life, and they may not be interested in letting go of what they perceive to be one of their only ‘pleasures’ in an otherwise difficult reality.
This is unfortunate, because treatment available for gambling addiction is among the most successful among all addiction treatments – with a recovery rate of up to 60%.
Self-Help for Problem Gamblers
If you’re not yet ready to seek professional advice, but you know that you have a problem, there are several things that you can do to help manage your problem. For this, however, you have to have reached a point where you admit or realize that you have a gambling problem. It will not work if you are constantly in denial of the issues. It takes tremendous courage to admit, but it’s your most important step towards recovery.
- Do alternative things to get that feel-good rush: Many problem gamblers take to gambling to escape problems such as loneliness, boredom or problem relationships. Is this something that you do too? Can you find another activity to give you that same feeling of relief that gambling gives you when you get away from the negative feelings? Consider activities such as meditating, exercising, volunteering or meeting up with friends who make you feel good.
- You need support. The journey of a gambling addict to full recovery is difficult, but it is made so much easier with the help of a support group. Identify your ‘people’. Reach out to friends or family who you know you can rely on. Speak to your religious leader, school counsellor or family doctor. If your only friends are those who you gamble with, try making a new circle of friends. Get busy with other activities to widen your support circle of positive people in your life.
- Treat other issues. You may feel that treating other disorders comes with less of a stigma attached. Somehow – and unfortunately - society doesn’t frown down as much on depression and alcohol abuse as they do on compulsive gambling habits. Seek help for all underlying disorders you may have. If you manage to treat substance abuse, stress or depression, you may find that your compulsive gambling disorder also disappears.
- Reach out for help. Peer support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous have proven to be highly effective in treating problem gambling. They offer a 12-step recovery program (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous) which involves working with a sponsor. By working closely with someone who has been in your shoes but who has managed to recover, you are provided with invaluable support that you may not find anywhere else.
Identifying the Problem and Making Smart Choices to Avoid it
Short of hiding under a rock for the rest of his life, a recovering alcoholic will always need to take the right steps to stay away from the temptation of alcohol. In the same way, a compulsive gambler needs to do more than just recognize the problem. He needs to make a permanent commitment to stay away from gambling and maintain that commitment at all times.
But it’s easier said than done. Even if you don’t live in a state or country where brick-and-mortar casinos are abundant, online gambling options are just a short click away. Online bookies and casinos can be accessed from any mobile device and are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Lottery tickets are sold at practically every gas station and store. So what can be done?
Compulsive gamblers need to make a conscious effort to avoid the temptation by:
- Surrounding themselves with their ‘people’ – supportive family and friends, a support peer group such as Gamblers Anonymous or anything else that works.
- Avoiding casinos and online casino websites and self-excluding from the property or website if necessary. Most casinos offer you self-exclusion as an option, where your name is added to a list for a certain amount of time (or forever), and during that time, you will not be allowed to play at the casino.
- Giving up control on one’s finances such as only paying in cash, no bank credit, etc.
- Finding healthy activities to fill that gambling void left.
Steps Reputable Casinos Take to Help Fight Gambling Addiction
Gambling online is a fun and exciting pastime. While the vast majority of players gamble within their means and view online gambling as just another form of entertainment, there is always a tiny portion of players who risk becoming problem gamblers. Responsible gambling providers are committed to creating a safe and enjoyable gaming environment for their players.
How do the best online casinos prevent gambling addiction and protect compulsive gamblers?
- Information. Online casinos will spell out in no uncertain terms just what players need to do to avoid addiction and how to gamble responsibly. These golden rules will stress the need to gamble for entertainment purposes only, to set limits, to expect to lose and to be aware of the signs of problem gambling.
- Protecting Underage Users. Good online casinos make very sure that they have the best technology to make sure that underage and other vulnerable people are prevented from accessing and playing at the online casino.
- Staff Awareness. Online casino staff are trained to recognize any signs of problem gambling. They will take all the necessary steps to protect casino members.
- Account Limits. Good online casinos provide various gambling management tools to help players set and control their gambling. One of them is the opportunity to set daily, weekly or monthly deposit limits for casino activity. These limits are set on the date and time requested by the player, and will be reset once the requested period has expired.
- Time Out Period. Some players feel that they need a break from gambling for a period of time and they can ask customer support to temporarily close their account for a set period of time. This period can range from 24 hours to a few weeks. Once the period is complete, the account is automatically reopened and players can resume playing.
- Self-Exclusion Periods. If players want a more long-term solution, they can ask to be excluded from gambling for an extended period of time. Self-exclusion can be from a few months to many years.
- Help Resources. The best online casinos provide players with a list of resources that they can use if they feel that they need help with a gambling addiction.
The online casinos on our list of recommended sites are all hand-picked for their excellent approach to responsible gambling. They follow all the rules and go the extra mile to ensure that their players operate in a safe and regulated gaming environment.
How to Maintain Healthy Habits
For many compulsive gamblers, the act of gambling and the thrill that comes with it, is a quick-fix for underlying problems. If you’re bored, gambling fills your time. If you’re socially isolated, the chat room at the online casino gives you that feeling of comradeship and belonging. If you’re stressed, gambling allows you to unwind.
The problem is that gambling is just a plaster for those problems. It won’t make them go away. It will just give you the illusion that you don’t have any problems. In the meantime, by getting more and more addicted to gambling, you are creating bigger problems for yourself in the long run.
The main objective is to replace unhealthy gambling habits for healthier life choices. This is easier said than done. Access to gambling activities is quick and generally hassle-free. It’s much simpler to access your favorite online casino within a couple of clicks than to take up another hobby or meet new people. But if you want things to succeed and to maintain a reality where you’re no longer dependent on gambling for feeling better, then you need to take important steps.
- If gambling makes you feel excited or if you love that rush of adrenaline that comes with it, take up a challenging sport instead. Extreme sports will provide you with the biggest rush of adrenaline of all, but you don’t need to go that far. Even signing up for a marathon in a few months’ time will give you an objective, and let’s not forget the endorphins –or ‘feel-good’ hormones - secreted from the brain when you do exercise.
- If you’re bored or lonely, find a group of like-minded people who share your passions. Join a hiking or book club, volunteer at an animal shelter or attend lectures on subjects close to your heart.
- If you use gambling to numb away unpleasant memories or experiences, seek out therapy. It’s best to approach the underlying causes in the right way.
- If you’re shy or isolated and gambling makes you feel that you’re part of something bigger, go for counselling to develop social skills, take public speaking lessors or surround yourself with family and friends who make you feel good about yourself. Let go of toxic relationships.
- If you hope that gambling will help you solve your financial problems, we suggest that you contact a debt counsellor sooner rather than later. The chances are that you are already deep in debt, or on the way to be. If you don’t want things to get worse, it’s time to stop now and face the problem head-on. You need practical advice on how to handle your money; not to follow a pipe dream of winning the lottery.
- If you use gambling to wind down because you’re stressed and anxious, try something else. Therapy, deep breathing, taking up meditation or yoga, going for a long walk or scheduling a weekly massage may do the same trick.
Types of Gambling Addiction Treatments
Treating Underlying Issues
As noted before, many compulsive gamblers have underlying conditions which contribute to their gambling problems. These include OCD, depression or even the more common ADHD. Treating these issues (with medication or therapy) has proven to be very effective against compulsive gambling.
Some people have such a severe gambling problem, that the only thing that works initially is to physically remove them from their familiar surroundings and provide them with 24/7 support. There are many inpatients or rehab programs offered to gambling addicts. Gamblers can receive referrals from their doctors or mental health professionals.
Therapy to Help with Family, Financial or Career Issues
If you’re gambling too much because you have relationship problems, stress at work or are unable to handle your finances, it may be because you need a helping hand. Therapy in any of these areas has proven to be a lifeline for many compulsive gamblers. When they fix their problems in those areas, the problem gambling also disappears.
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches addicts practical ways in which they can change their unhealthy gambling habits. This no-nonsense approach to therapy provides you with a tool-box to help you in all areas of life, including relationships, fighting urges and problem-solving.
Who to Contact
US – The National Problem Gambling Helpline (1800-522-4700) connects callers to local health and government organizations to assist them with their gambling addiction.
UK – The National Gambling Helpline (Freephone 0808-8020-133) provides confidential info, support and advice for anyone in England, Scotland and Wales.
Australia - Call Gambling Help at 1800-858-858 to speak to someone in your state.
South Africa – The free-call national helpline (0800-006-008) provides free and confidential support 24/7.