Gambling addiction is known as a behavioural addiction, gambling can eventually lead to serious financial difficulties, problems at work, dysfunctional family life and sometimes suicide. Whether you buy lottery tickets, bet on sports, play poker online or visit casinos, gambling, if it’s done compulsively and is coupled with delusional thinking (such as winning is a skill, not luck) it becomes a problem for people. Read more about the facts behind gambling addiction from our experts.
How gambling addictions start
Similar to substance abuse but unique in its own way, people often start using gambling as a way to cope with other factors in their life, such as:
- An escape from pressure, stress, or boredom
- A relief from sadness, loneliness or emptiness
- An escape from abusive relationships
- Substituting another addiction (ie cross-addiction)
Phases of Gambling addiction
While gambling can start as an escape or coping mechanism, it can grow into a full-fledged addiction if one is not careful. For a lot of our clients, their path to a gambling problem often consists of cyclical phases:
- Winning phase – when a person enjoys the “high” of winning,
- Losing phase – when the winning stops and gains are lost,
- Desperation – when the reality of the financial repercussions sets in
- Hopelessness – when desperation gives way to abject despair.
Recreational Gambling Versus Problem Gambling
Most people who gamble occasionally do it for entertainment. They know that they are likely to lose and if they win it is luck. They understand that gambling is a game of chance.
Problem gamblers believe that they can forecast the outcome of a game. They think they can govern chance: if something has not happened for a long time it will eventually happen. They believe that a big win will solve all their problems and that they deserve to win. In 2015 the Gambling Commission found that more than 2 million people in the UK are addicted to gambling or at risk of developing a problem. Gambling, especially online gambling, is one of the fastest-growing addictions in the world today.
Problem gamblers spend more than they can afford to lose. It is no longer entertainment and it replaces all other interests in life. Betting has become a compulsion and the gambler is preoccupied with their next bet, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble. There are family problems due to arguments, lies and the gambler’s denial. It’s common to become depressed and experience feelings of shame and guilt. The gambler feels isolated and hopeless.
Problem Gamblers Often:
- Spend unlimited time and money on gambling
- Experience financial problems
- Chase their losses (after losing money the gambler will return another day to get even)
- Take out frequent loans
- Are preoccupied with gambling
- Believe that a win must be about to happen
- Ask for money from family and friends or steal to fund their habit
- Pawn belongings to raise funds
- Lie to friends and family about the extent of their losses
- Experience mood swings, depression, hopelessness
- Constantly think about the next bet
- Become restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
- Deny the extent of the problem
- Have had repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling
Are you a Problem Gambler?
There are several warning signs that you have a problem with gambling. The American Psychiatric Association’s Manual for Diagnostic and Statistics about Mental Disorders (DSM) provides this questionnaire to identify the problem gambling. Ask yourself:
- Do you find that you are preoccupied with gambling (for example, constantly thinking about past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling opportunity, or scheming of ways to get money with which to gamble)?
- Do you need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement?
- Have you already made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling?
- Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling?
- Do you gamble in order to escape from problems or to relieve unpleasant moods (eg feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression)?
- After losing money gambling, do you often return to try and ‘break-even’ and recoup your losses (‘chase your losses’)?
- Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement in gambling?
- Have you committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling?
- Have you jeopardised or lost any significant relationships, jobs or educational opportunities because of gambling?
- Have you had to manipulate others to provide you with money to relieve desperate financial situations cause by gambling (‘bailout’)?
If you or someone you care about can answered “yes” or even “maybe” it’s time to critically evaluate whether or not you need professional intervention.
Consequences of Problem Gambling
In 2015 the Gambling Commission found that more than 2 million people in the UK are addicted to gambling or at risk of developing a problem. Gambling, especially online gambling, is one of the fastest-growing addictions in the world today.
As gambling addiction progresses, a person’s life becomes focused on the next gambling “fix” and this can lead to desperation, depression and feelings of shame and fear. Unfortunately, many gamblers do not seek help until the problem is severe and they are facing financial ruin.
Very often another addiction such as alcohol dependence may co-exist along with gambling and it is essential that these other addictions are also treated.
“The average person would be astonished how many people at Gambler’s Anonymous meetings have been involved in suicide attempts and had ruined their lives through gambling in a relatively short period of time.” Chris Burn, Gambling Therapist, Castle Craig.
Gambling and Cross Addiction
People who have been in recovery from addictions to alcohol or drugs are at risk of cross-addiction. This is when one addiction is swapped for another e.g. gambling. Research suggests that the reward pathways and dopamine receptors of the brain of a recovering alcoholic might be stimulated in the same way by the thrill and rush of gambling.
Gambling and Depression
Depression and gambling frequently co-occur. Persons with depression may be drawn to gambling as an escape-type behaviour that temporarily alleviates some of the symptoms of depression by providing excitement and thrill. Individuals with problem gambling habits frequently develop depression as a result of the severe stressors that problem gambling can produce, such as relational strain, family strain, financial problems, lying, and secrecy.
Like any other addiction, the “self-medicating” quality of gambling poses a difficulty for treatment, as individuals with problem gambling behaviours have often developed those behaviours because they lack other coping skills to deal with difficult feelings. This behaviour may continue to be an appealing “out” from the very problems it is causing.
Can cryptocurrency trading become a gambling addiction?
The short answer is yes, the warning signs for gambling addiction are the same as the ones for a cryptocurrency addiction. Castle Craig is one of the very first Residential Rehab Clinics in the UK offering treatment for Bitcoin Addiction. We treat Crypto-Addiction as a Gambling Addiction. Find out more about Cryptocurrency Addiction.
Gambling Addiction Treatment at Castle Craig
At Castle Craig, the Gambling Addiction programme is based on a 12 step treatment model. Our trained therapists run Gamblers Anonymous 12 Step groups where compulsive gamblers can share their experiences and support each other.
On top of the 12 step treatment, we integrate Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help deal with the denial and consequences of addiction. This multi-pronged approach emphasises the positive, practical steps a patient can take to change their lifestyle.
Through CBT we help patients with gambling addiction to develop and achieve SMART goals. This enables patients to measure their progress through small but significant steps. SMART goals must be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. These can be:
- To abstain from alcohol, drugs and gambling
- To work with a debt counsellor to resolve financial issues
- To learn relapse prevention strategies
- To develop a healthy, new lifestyle through a good diet, exercise and creative therapies
- To rebuild broken relationships with family, friends and colleagues
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Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | October 12, 2021