There can be very few people around who don’t have the occasional flutter – a small bet on the Grand National or the Derby, the office sweepstake or a few coins in a slot machine. The thrill of taking a risk seems to be part of the human psyche and gambling is viewed as a fun and exciting diversion. In most cases it is harmless but it is estimated that for some 450,000 people in Britain gambling is a problem and has become an addiction.
Defining gambling addiction
Gambling addiction, or compulsive gambling as it is also known, is essentially an irresistible compulsion to gamble, with complete disregard for the consequences. Gambling addicts will place a bet whether they are winning or losing, whether or not they can afford it and irrespective of whether or not they should be doing something else.
Indications of gambling addiction
With no physical signs, gambling addiction can be difficult to spot. It often takes time to develop although on rare occasions a single bet can lead to addiction. Sufferers typically hide their problem by withdrawing from their social circle, lying about their whereabouts or denying the extent of their gambling.
There are, however, a number of indications that someone might be affected by gambling addiction:
- Secrecy – gambling addicts will go to great lengths to hide their activities. They will lie, cover their tracks and do whatever it takes to prevent others discovering what they are doing. This is driven by shame about their gambling, fear that others will not understand their problem and the dream of being able to surprise others with a big win.
- Can’t stop – problem gamblers will always hang on for that last bet. They look for the big win or continue betting in the hope of winning back everything they have lost. As long as they have money, they will gamble until they have nothing left.
- Money no object – gambling addicts will do whatever it takes to get money to gamble and are known to sell property, borrow or steal. This may be partly attributable to the belief that the only way to recoup losses is to gamble more.
- Gambling as an escape – addicts use gambling as a diversion from problems they face at home or at work or else to mask feelings of guilt and depression. Unfortunately, gambling merely serves to add to the stresses from which they are trying to escape in what becomes a vicious cycle. Interestingly, problem gambling is often accompanied by problem drinking.
- Gamble at every opportunity – gambling addicts will gamble every chance they get. They will take time away from their families and will even miss appointments or take time off work to place a bet, gamble at a casino, or gamble online.
- Feelings of remorse – like many addicts, gambling addicts often understand that their behaviour is not appropriate and feel remorse afterwards. They promise to stop but their efforts end in failure.
- Debts – gamblers almost invariably accumulate debts that they are unable to settle. They may ask family members or friends to bail them out.
Help for gambling addicts
Gambling addiction can be treated. The first step is recognition that a problem exists. Although each case is different, treatment typically involves cognitive behavioural therapy that is designed to change the thought processes of problem gamblers and show them how to deal with the problems that cause the gambling and the problems that result.