Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter the consequences.
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as the “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers typically deny or minimize the problem. They also go to great lengths to hide their gambling. For example, problem gamblers often withdraw from their loved ones, sneak around, and lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to. You may 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 have spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
• Gamble even when you don’t have the money. A red flag is when you are getting more and more desperate to recoup your losses. You may gamble until you have 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. It’s a vicious cycle. You may sincerely believe that gambling more money is the only way to win lost money back. But it only puts you further and further in the hole.
• Family and friends are worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. Take a hard look at how gambling is affecting your life. 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. Treatment
There’s evidence that gambling can be successfully treated in the same way as other addictions. Cognitive behavioural therapy usually has the best results.
Specialised addiction services that focus mainly on substance misuse often also treat gambling problems. They use the same techniques to treat gambling addictions that they use to treat substance misuse.
Unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety can trigger compulsive gambling or make it worse. After a stressful day at work, after an argument with your spouse or coworker, or to avoid more time spent on your own, an evening at the track or the casino can seem like a fun, exciting way to unwind and socialize. But there are healthier and far less expensive ways to keep unpleasant feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, spending time with friends, taking up new hobbies, or exploring relaxation techniques.
For many people, an important aspect of quitting gambling is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings without gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, the painful and unpleasant feelings that may have prompted you to gamble in the past will still remain. So, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different ways you intend to deal with stressful situations and the daily irritations that would normally trigger you to start gambling. Every gambler is unique and so needs a recovery program tailored specifically to him or her. What works for one gambler won’t necessarily work for you. The biggest step in treatment is realizing you have a problem with gambling. It takes tremendous strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. Don’t despair, and don’t try to go it alone. Many others have been in your shoes and have been able to break the habit.
Overcoming a gambling addiction or problem is never easy. But recovery is possible if you stick with treatment and seek support.