WHAT IS GAMBLING ADDICTION?
Gambling can be a fun and exciting, low-risk recreational activity for some people. For others, however, gambling shifts from casual pastime to serious addiction.
Gambling addiction—also known as—pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder. If you’re a compulsive gambler, you can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones. You’ll gamble whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, and you’ll keep gambling regardless of the consequences—even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.
Of course, you can also have a gambling problem without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that disrupts your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences in your life, you have a gambling problem.
A gambling addiction or problem is often associated with other behavior or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To overcome your gambling problems, you’ll also need to address these and any other underlying causes as well. The first step is to separate the myths from the facts about gambling problems:
Gambling becomes an addiction when it is something you or a loved one cannot control and when it begins to affect a person’s financial, familial, social, recreational, educational, or occupational functioning. Gambling addiction, much like some forms of substance addiction, is associated with a release of dopamine in the brain as much as 10 times more than what is normal. Dopamine has been referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, and this special signaling chemical is active throughout the reward centers of the brain. So the release of dopamine tells your brain, “This feels good! I want more!” What begins as a harmless good feeling can turn into a compulsive need in some people.
Facts about Gambling Problems
A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
Problem gamblers often try to rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling their gambling problems to continue.
Gambling addiction signs and symptoms
You cannot easily pick out a gambler and so the term “hidden illness” best fits the habit. There are no apparent signs like those that you see with drug and alcohol abusers. However, you will know if you have a gambling problem if you:
Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won’t understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.
Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
Gamble even when you don’t have the money. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don’t have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money.
Have family and friends worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they’ve gambled away their inheritance, but it’s never too late to make changes for the better.
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