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THE MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION ON PROBLEM GAMBLING HELPLINE
Problem gambling–or gambling addiction–includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. The essential features are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide. If you find yourself identifying with any of the above symptoms you’ve come to the right place. The Empowerment Zone Coalition would like to help! The resources on this page can do just that.
1. Using gambling to self-medicate or escape
Gambling is fun and exciting to many people who never develop an addiction. Gambling addicts, however, tend to use this excitement to escape personal conflicts or self-medicate mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. This is one of the gambling addiction symptoms that responds best to professional treatment, because treating the underlying mental health issue with therapy and/or medication can help break the cycle of addiction by removing the biggest motivation for compulsive gambling.
2. Neglecting work, school, and home obligations to spend time gambling
Just as a drug addict will use compulsively to satisfy cravings for their drug of choice, gambling addicts gamble compulsively to satisfy their own intense cravings. The power of this compulsion will frequently lead problem gamblers to neglect responsibilities at work, school or home because so much of their time and energy is funneled into gambling. Addicts will also lose track of time while gambling, often due to “chasing losses,” where they obsessively attempt to recover lost money by gambling more and more. Gamblers tell themselves that they’ll quit as soon as they break even, while their debts and lost time only accumulate.
3. An obsession with gambling
Gambling addicts become preoccupied with gambling to the point of obsession. Most of their time not spent gambling is spent planning when they will be able to gamble next, or how they will get hold of more gambling money. This obsession contributes to their neglect of relationships and responsibilities, because it is difficult for the addict to focus on anything unrelated to their drug of choice, i.e. gambling. This is another of the warning signs of gambling addiction that compulsive gamblers share in common with drug addicts.
4. Financial hardships caused by gambling
Once a gambling addiction takes hold, debt will inevitably follow. Although there are rare wins in gambling, there is truth in the saying, “the house always wins.” Gambling is a profitable business, and casinos, online poker sites, and lottery programs earn those profits through the billions of dollars that gamblers lose while playing. Addicts will start asking loved ones for money to bail them out, sell or pawn their belongings, or even resort to fraud, theft and other illegal activities in their desperation to recover their losses. Spending money that is needed for other things, like food, bills, or rent, on gambling could be an early warning sign of a gambling addiction.
5. Endangering or losing jobs, relationships and opportunities at school or work
Financial hardship is one of the warning signs of gambling addiction that is exacerbated by other gambling addiction symptoms, such as losing jobs or opportunities to advance at school or work. This kind of loss can be an indirect result of gambling, like when obsession gets in the way of an addict following through on their responsibilities and goals, or it can be a direct result of a gambler’s compulsion, like when an addict is caught gambling on the job, or embezzling money to cover gambling debts.
Even when the problem is obvious to everyone in the compulsive gambler’s life, many addicts will continue to deny or minimize the problem. They will insist that they have it under control, lying about how often they gamble, how much they bet, and how much money they owe. Denial is one of the gambling addiction symptoms that presents a major obstacle to seeking treatment, because you can’t ask for help until you admit you have a problem.
7. Withdrawing from friends and family
Whether out of guilt, a desire to keep the addiction secret, or as a reaction to loved ones who have expressed concern about noticeable gambling addiction symptoms, compulsive gamblers often withdraw from friends and family, avoiding them both emotionally and physically. Secretive behavior and social isolation are more warning signs of gambling addiction that are also signs of drug addiction.
8. Continuing to gamble despite the negative consequences
Despite recognizing many gambling addiction symptoms in themselves, and even after suffering serious consequences due to gambling, such as losing a job, a spouse, a home, or getting in legal trouble, compulsive gamblers will continue to gamble. This is partly because, like with many drug addictions, gambling is an addiction that feeds on itself. Addicts seek to solve the problems caused by their gambling with more gambling, feeling sure that a big win is just around the corner.
9. Feeling incapable of controlling their behavior despite wanting to
Many compulsive gamblers sincerely want to stop gambling, but find themselves incapable of doing so—at least without professional help. In fact, without treatment, the problem is more likely to escalate over time, as an increasing tolerance to the “high” of gambling, along with mounting financial problems, will push the addict towards larger stakes bets. Gambling addicts who try to quit will often return to gambling because they begin to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and depression.
Types of Gambling Addictions
It is important to pay attention to any changes in behavior, as many people can be in the problem stage of a gambling addiction, where intervening can help avoid a full-on gambling addiction.
- Problem Gambling: Gamblers who are not completely under the control of their addiction, but who still engage in gambling habits that disrupt their life (such as frequently lying to loved ones about how much money they lose) are referred to as problem gamblers. Some people exist at this low level of behavioral disorder for extended periods of time, even forever, but for many, problematic gambling will rapidly progress to a more dangerous level of addiction.
- Binge Gambling: This type of gambling addict may go through long phases where they don’t gamble at all and appear to be in complete control. They may even refrain from gambling most of the time. On the rare occasions that the binge gambler does gamble, however, the addiction will surface through behaviors such as gambling for long stretches without sleep as they chase losses, unable to stop now that they’ve started.
- Compulsive Gambling: This type of gambler is the most extreme form of the addiction. Compulsive, or pathological, gamblers are consistently unable to control their gambling behavior, no matter how high the risk or how severe the consequences. Their lives continue to revolve around gambling, no matter how much they’ve already lost, financially, emotionally or psychologically.
Where can you get help?
NATIONAL PROBLEM GAMBLING HELPLINE
MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION ON PROBLEM GAMBLING
SELF HELP RESOURCES
• Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org)
Is fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.
• Gam-Anon (www.gam-anon.org)
Is a self-help organization for the spouse, family or close friends of compulsive gamblers.
• GamTalk (www.gamtalk.org)
Is a 24/7 moderated online peer support forum.