Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder that causes you to lose control over your gambling behaviours. As gambling has become more accessible with gambling websites and apps, people who have problems with gambling can now gamble at any time of the day. This means that addiction may develop faster and be harder to recover from.
Read on to find out what gambling addiction is, its causes and effects, and how you can help yourself or a loved one suffering from it. Like substance use addictions, gambling addiction is treatable; it is never too late to get help.
How does gambling addiction develop?
Gambling addiction is the only behavioural addiction that is currently recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Like other addictions, it develops gradually, so you may start to gamble for entertainment, betting small amounts of money infrequently. When gambling starts to affect other aspects of your life, it becomes problem gambling. At this point, you may still not have a gambling addiction, but it will become harder to stop, and you are at risk of developing an addiction.
A gambling addiction is when you lose control over your gambling, compulsively doing it despite negative consequences to yourself or those around you. You will continue gambling if it affects your health and relationships and even if you do not have enough money. You will also gain tolerance to gambling, so you need to use more money and more frequently to feel the relief or pleasure you used to. Once a gambling dependency has developed, you may do things that you never thought you would, such as stealing money to gamble or getting into debt.
Causes of gambling addiction
As with other addictions, gambling addiction is not just about the behaviour. There is no one cause of gambling addiction, but several factors put you at risk of developing an addiction to gambling. Knowing things that can put you at risk of gambling addiction can help you understand how to use healthy ways to deal with risk factors rather than gambling.
- Behavioural and mood disorders – there is an association between these disorders and gambling addiction. For example, if you have a behavioural disorder that makes you more impulsive, you may be more likely to get a thrill from gambling and therefore seek it out. If you have a mood disorder such as depression, you may use gambling to self-medicate your symptoms.
- Problems in life – such as stress at home, work, relationship issues or financial concerns – you may use gambling to relax after a stressful day, ease boredom, or numb unpleasant feelings.
- Family history of addiction
- Trauma such as physical or sexual abuse
Effects and signs of gambling addiction
Knowing the effects and signs of gambling addiction is important to recognise signs early in yourself or a loved one. The earlier you recognise problems and get help, the easier it will be to recover. Signs of gambling addiction include:
- Problems in relationships and at school or work
- Financial problems
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- A build-up of tolerance (needing to gamble with more money or more frequently to get the same feeling)
- Physical symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, headaches, stomach problems, and stress-related problems
- Secretiveness (lying about how much you spend or other ways of hiding the problem)
- Loss of control over gambling
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school
- Denial that you have a problem or of the extent of the problem
Do you have a gambling problem?
If you are worried that you or a loved one has a gambling problem, here is a list of questions you can ask to get a better idea:
- Do you bet more than you have?
- Do you chase losses?
- Do you need to gamble with more money or more frequently to get the same high?
- Has your gambling caused problems with your health or relationships?
- Have people expressed concern about your gambling?
- Do you have financial problems due to your gambling?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your gambling or its consequences?
Tips if you have a gambling addiction
The biggest step to getting help is recognising that you have a problem. If you are reading this, you are likely already on your way to that. You should be proud that you are making this step. We will now talk about some tips if you suspect a gambling addiction:
- Pay your important bills early in the month. This can be done by setting up standing orders
- Try to spend time with people who do not gamble – having a strong support network of people who do not gamble can be a good influence and help you gain joy from other things
- Talk to someone about your worries about your gambling and other things rather than bottling it up
- Pick up activities that help relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising and relaxation techniques – finding an activity you are passionate about could help you find joy elsewhere
- When you have the urge to gamble, try and take part in another activity to distract yourself during this time
These may seem like futile efforts. Do not lose hope if you try these and still feel that you cannot control your urges. Later, we will speak about how you can get professional help.
How to help a loved one
If it is a loved one who has a gambling addiction, this could be affecting your relationship and your life. It is difficult if your loved one is pushing you away or not treating you well due to their gambling addiction. Remember that they are still the person you love but suffer from a disorder affecting their behaviour.
We suggest you start a conversation with them about how their gambling addiction affects you. Make sure you do not approach this from a place of blame and are non-judgemental. You may focus on how their behaviour affects their mental health, your joint finances, or your quality time together.
Make sure you have this conversation when you are calm and actively listen to what they are saying. They must understand you support them. You should not try to coerce or force them into anything. Recovery is difficult, and if they do not want to recover themselves, they will likely relapse.
Look at the treatment options for your partner before you speak with them. This might include therapy, treatment centres, and support groups. Once your partner has decided to start the gambling recovery process, you can support them through this. Expect it to be a challenging ride; there may be setbacks. Most people will relapse at least once before they reach long-term recovery.
It is important to look after yourself; you will only be able to support your partner if you do so. You may want to manage the family finances and set clear boundaries so that your loved one’s addiction does not take over your life. Speak with family and friends if you are struggling so you do not become isolated. And make sure that you are not making excuses and lying to your partner, as this may enable their behaviour.
Gambling addiction myth busters
People who are addicted to gambling gamble every day…
Truth: you may gamble all the time or infrequently. You have a problem with gambling if it causes problems in your life or for those around you.
People who are addicted to gambling are weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent…
Truth: gambling can affect anyone. You may be a strong, responsible, and intelligent person, but this addiction makes you act in a way that seems the opposite.
If I have money, gambling cannot be a problem…
Truth: problems with gambling addiction are not just financial. If you spend a lot of time gambling, you could have problems in your relationships and with your job. You may also find that it affects your mental health.
You should help your loved one financially if they are in debt…
Truth: while you may feel that you are helping your loved one, giving them money to help their debt could be enabling their behaviour and helping them to continue gambling. It is more important to think about long-term solutions and support their recovery.
It is my fault that my loved one is gambling…
Truth: your loved one may blame others for their gambling addiction as they try to deflect the problem. It is important not to take this on board. A gambling addiction is no one’s fault.
Treatment for gambling addiction
If you cannot stop gambling without support, gambling addiction treatment at a clinic such as Linwood House could be the answer. At a gambling treatment centre, you will not have access to gambling, and during your stay, you will work on ways to reduce the urge to gamble when you return home. This includes therapy and support groups, and often includes other approaches such as the 12-step programme and CBT.
Gambling rehab at Linwood House
At Linwood House, we understand how difficult it is to recover from gambling addiction because most of our staff are in recovery from addiction themselves. Our gambling treatment programme is proven to help you overcome gambling addiction if you are willing to put the work in. We will speak with you about your gambling compulsions and any co-occurring disorders so that we can support you as best as possible. We offer a range of therapies, including counselling, CBT, and group therapy.
Our programme enables you to recognise and replace unhealthy thoughts and behaviours with new healthier ones. You will learn how to understand your triggers and manage them.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a gambling disorder, have hope! With our help, you can recover and live a happy and healthy life. Please contact us if you are ready to seek support.