NHS figures show that there may be around 250.000 problem gamblers in the UK. Not all of these are gambling addicts, as their behaviour has not yet gone completely out of control. However, common for both conditions, their behaviours are surrounded by a degree of secrecy that can mask the problem from family and friends for years. Unfortunately professional help is often not sought until the consequences of the problem have mounted and become so overwhelming that one of the most important thing in the person’s life is about to give, - a relationship, a job, or perhaps even one’s own life.
Difference between problem gambling and gambling addiction
It is not always an easy task to outline the behavioural and attitudinal differences of two types of behaviours that vary only in degree. The line between the two can be paper thin, and a good question to ask yourself is; Once you start gambling, can you walk away?In this respect gambling addiction is not different from alcohol addiction, -the alcoholic being unable to stop drinking once they’ve started.
Nevertheless, problem gambling is characterized by an increasing preoccupation with gambling, spending more and more money and time on it, even knowing that it can lead to negative consequences. The main difference between the problem gambler and the gambling addict is that for the latter the act of gambling is all consuming and dominates all areas of life. Regardless of whether they are up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed, they will gamble, despite the negative consequences to loved ones or themselves.
Both conditions need to be taken seriously
Problem gambling and gambling addiction are often referred to as the ‘hidden illness’ because, there are no overt physical signs and symptoms that offer clues about the severity of the problem to family members and friends. Gambling addiction, like all addictions, is surrounded by a lot of secrecy, and most gambling addicts typically deny or minimize the problem.
Since problem gambling is likely to escalate and become gambling addiction, and since both behaviours rob the person of quality of life, freedom to act differently, and a life based on honesty, both conditions need professional treatment in order to be overcome. Treatment is found to be most successful when it is administered in an environment that is devoid of those things that usually trigger the behaviour, which is why residential treatment is advisable. An essential aspect of successful recovery is to discover new and supportive ways in which to manage emotions that would previously lead to gambling. It is frequently found that underlying the gambling behaviour is a mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety or perhaps even another addiction. Addressing the underlying issues is imperative for the compulsive behaviour to cease. Life Works provides a 12 steps abstinence based program that compliments the fellowship recovery community. Gambling addicts are therefore encouraged to go to Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the same 12-step approach as Alcoholics Anonymous and also offers support groups for relatives called Gam-Anon.
Because gambling addiction ultimately involve the entire family and can have catastrophic consequences for everyone associated with the gambling addict, the next blog will examine some of the ways in which we can best support and approach a loved one who is battling this difficult addiction.