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Addicted to Gambling?
Gambling is one of the most insidious problems often faced by those that are either seeking respite from everyday problems, or are looking to make easy money. The odds are never in the favor of the gambler. The gambling industry is a successful one as a result of the fact that the ‘house’ always wins. Gambling can quickly lead to financial ruin, psychological problems, and other addictions such as alcohol and substance addiction. It is common to find gamblers playing with a drink in hand. Gambling addiction is a type of impulse control disorder that takes hold of the victim in such a way that the urge to gamble cannot be overcome, even when the odds are not in his favor and with the realization that such an action will be detrimental both to him and to others. With the prevalence of online sports betting sites and casinos, more people have greater chances of becoming gamblers, and getting addicted to gambling, than was the case in the past. Accessibility has brought about a paradigm shift in gambling, as with everything else. People can take up gambling, or become addicted to gambling due to certain unresolved underlying issues. It could be as a result of stress caused by problems at home or at work, bereavement, relationship problems, financial problems, or an impulsive personality prone to compulsive behavior. It could also simply be as a result of social influence. Despite the abuse, gambling cannot be said to be entirely bad. Some people do gamble professionally after all –with complete self-control and discipline – while some gamble as a way of passing time with friends and family. Gambling only becomes a problem when it takes full control of the individual, affecting his social life, personal responsibilities, work, and education.
What is gambling addiction?
Gambling can be a fun and exciting low-risk pastime. Some people may however indulge it up to the point that it shifts from harmless activity to a problem. It becomes an addiction when a person loses all control, allowing it to negatively impact his personal responsibilities, social and family relationships, education, and job.
Many people can enjoy gambling without getting addicted. However, many others can develop a habit and become dependent in the long run. It is also possible for gambling addicts to fall victim to other vices as alcohol and drug addiction.
When a gambling addict indulges, 10 times more dopamine than normal is released in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that creates a “feel good” state. It stimulates the reward centers of the brain and urges the individual to continually seek out the activity that led to it. Gambling dependence is developed when a person has to gamble in order to feel good, or even normal.
What leads to gambling addiction?
Gambling is readily accessible to people above the age of 18, and is even more so with the advent of online gambling. The idea of making quick and easy money appeals to a majority of people, especially when they believe they have a good chance of making massive wins that will quickly solve their financial problems.
There are many factors that can lead a person to get addicted to gambling, some of which include a desire for thrills and highs, the competitive nature of some games, the need to partake in the seemingly glamorous atmosphere of the mainstream gambling scene, the societal status associated with being an accomplished gambler, and financial desperation. Chronic addiction can result from desperation to win back what has been lost. Even after the gambler has made a proportionately massive win, it may not be able to cover previous losses. Most gamblers hardly ever break even, leading them to keep going back. Once a person gets addicted, it is very difficult to break the cycle.
However, not everyone that partakes in gambling would be prone to getting addicted. Some people are more temperamentally and physiologically predisposed to gambling addiction than others. Mindful involvement and self assessment are therefore crucial to avoid getting addicted, or even in deciding whether to take up gambling at all.
Who is at risk for gambling addiction?
Studies have shown that just like in some cases of substance addiction, some people may be genetically predisposed to getting addicted to gambling. The genetic origins of gambling addiction include:
- Low levels of serotonin
- Poor judgment as regards the long term consequences of certain actions
- Tendency to get involved in activities that can provide immediate rewards
Low serotonin levels cause lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities (a condition known as anhedonia). People that are in this mental state will tend to seek out activities that increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, so that they can enjoy the feelings of pleasure and happiness that normal people may feel in the absence of stimuli.
Some people are also genetically predisposed to make impulsive decisions and take part in activities that would provide them with immediate rewards. In such cases, the parts of the brain that control inhibition, which enable a person to think through the consequences of taking certain actions, are underactive. This results to impulsiveness and a tendency to seek out short term rewards.
Signs of gambling addiction
There are common signs that indicate an addiction to gambling. Being mindful of these signs can help you detect whether you are getting addicted and be able to take immediate action. Some of these signs include:
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Poor performance at the work place
- The need to spend more time and money on gambling than can be afforded so as to experience the rush and feelings of excitement that come with the act
- Making subsequently higher stakes
- Consistently talking about or thinking about gambling, including how to obtain money for the next stake, when the next trip will be, and reminiscing about previous gambling experiences and outcomes
- Trying to keep the gambling habit a secret by lying about whereabouts, level of involvement in gambling, and the amount of money that has been spent gambling
- Inability to pay bills, selling possessions, and borrowing money to gamble
- Finding it difficult to manage gambling habits or to stop gambling
- Feeling restless, irritable, anxious, or worried when a person tries to stop gambling or reduce the amount of time and money spent on gambling
- Going back every day with the hope of winning back loses and breaking even
There are also signs that can alert you to whether your loved ones are addicted or becoming addicted to gambling. These red flags include:
- Failing to keep to time and honor agreed plans
- Frequent mood swings that are far from normal. The person may be in high spirits some times and deeply depressed, snappy, or withdrawn at other times.
- Drinking more frequently or taking up drinking, and substance use
- Spending more time online playing games that are related to gambling
- Getting irritable or aggressive when questioned regarding their odd behavior
- Neglecting bills, frequently demanding for money, or beginning to steal
- Skipping school or work, which starts off occurring infrequently but later becomes chronic
Can gambling addiction be cured?
Gambling addiction can be cured medically with the use of antidepressants and mood stabilizers to combat problems associated with compulsive gambling. Also, behavioral therapy can be implemented to unlearn gambling habits and equip the individual with skills that will help defeat the urge to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying and getting rid of negative, irrational, and unhealthy mindsets.
Joining self help groups where people with similar problems can relate and share their experiences has also been found to be effective against combating addiction. Finally, family therapy can be beneficial in managing strained relationships.