What is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction, also known as problem gambling, is a compulsive pattern of prioritising and indulging in gambling activities despite negative consequences. It can be a problem for anyone, regardless of their age, sexual identity, ethnicity, or level of education. Gambling becomes an inflexible behaviour that takes up a large part of a person’s life. It can start out as a casual hobby with low stakes, but small wins no longer excite the individual as they begin to crave bigger opportunities to win (or lose).
Gambling addiction affects the brain’s reward system, specifically dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in motivation and pleasurable feelings which may explain why those struggling with a gambling problem seek out pleasurable activities.
Gambling addicts tend to believe that they can take back control by playing more and more (chasing losses). In reality, this only escalates the problem and leads to more harm and distress for both the gambler and their loved ones. Gambling addicts will often describe an overwhelming feeling of needing to gamble, followed by a high after winning, low after losing, and strong urges to continue gambling in order to chase these highs and lows.
Facts and Statistics
In the UK it is estimated that approximately 430,000 people are suffering from compulsive gambling. This number has grown dramatically over recent years and can be attributed to a variety of factors including:
- Economic downturn
- Increased presence of betting shops on the high street
- Increased marketing of betting companies
- Mobile and digital gambling platforms
- Increased lottery draws and scratchcards
- FOBT machines in betting shops (usually Roulette)
All these factors have a part to play. It is now very easy to gamble 24 hours a day. Last year it is estimated that approximately 10 billion pounds were spent on gambling!
- “If I pay off the debts the problem is solved.”
This is, in fact, the opposite of the truth and often just enables the gambler to continue.
- “Gambling is not a problem if I’m rich enough.”
This is a myth. Gambling will affect emotional well-being, relationships and performance regardless of the amount of money that one has.
- “I’m bound to win. I’ve had such a bad losing streak.”
- “Compulsive gambling only affects irresponsible people who make bad choices.”
Myth! Like any other addiction, gambling can affect anyone and is a complex process which often requires professional gambling addiction treatment.
- “It’s easy to spot a compulsive gambler.”
Myth! In fact, gamblers are usually masters at hiding the problem, often painting a rosy picture to the rest of the world.
Are All Problem Gamblers Male?
Current research suggests that men are seven and a half times more likely to become problem gamblers. Theories link the higher likelihood of impulsiveness, risk-taking, and struggle to express discontent and struggles as a potential explanation  .
However, just because current theories show such results doesn’t mean that compulsive gambling is not an issue for women. Especially since many academics are calling out that previous research is biased toward males, making the results not representative of what is happening within society and ignoring the unique struggles of women with gambling .
- Wong, Gloria, et al. “Examining Gender Differences for Gambling Engagement and Gambling Problems among Emerging Adults.” Journal of Gambling Studies, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4736715/.
- Håkansson, Anders, and Carolina Widinghoff. “Gender Differences in Problem Gamblers in an Online Gambling Setting: PRBM.” Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Dove Press, 18 Aug. 2020, https://www.dovepress.com/gender-differences-in-problem-gamblers-in-an-online-gambling-setting-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-PRBM#:~:text=Problem%20gambling%2C%20including%20the%20diagnostic,and%20in%20the%20clinical%20setting.
- McCarthy, Simone, et al. “Women’s Gambling Behaviour, Product Preferences, and Perceptions of Product Harm: Differences by Age and Gambling Risk Status.” Harm Reduction Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Apr. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5916584/.
Causes of Gambling Addiction
There are many potential causes of gambling addiction, including stress, depression, boredom, and impulsivity. Those who enjoy gambling may become addicted due to the release of dopamine associated with gambling activities.
Retirement can be a major cause for gambling because it removes someone from their daily routine and puts them in the position where they have to consider what they’ll do about spending time. Retirement can also cause someone to become bored, lonely and depressed, and gambling can be a way to escape from this feeling temporarily.
There may be a traumatic event that leads to addiction to gambling. An example is an injury or medical emergency that leads someone to become depressed or unable to work for a period of time. People who feel lonely and socially disconnected may quickly turn to gambling as a way to escape from their feelings.
Depression is one of the most common causes of gambling addiction. With depression, the gambler may turn to gambling to mask depressive symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia. Depressed people tend to have a distorted perception of reality, so they are less able to understand the consequences of gambling or future consequences. On top of that, low motivation and low energy can also be triggers for gambling addiction.
It can also be said that problem gambling stems from mental health problems, and the relationship between mental health and gambling addiction is well documented. Like all forms of addiction, engaging in compulsive, often risky behaviour can be linked to past trauma, self-esteem issues and other disorders such as ADHD or autism. It is clear however, that problem gambling leads to worsened mental health, financial trouble and higher rates of suicide (especially among men).
There is a huge correlation between financial stress and addiction, this has been well documented during the financial crisis of 2008, and we are seeing a resurgence of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress is a huge trigger for addictive behaviours, but those with financial worries may also turn to gambling in attempt to make money, resulting in a vicious cycle of money woes and impulsive gambling.
Presence of other addictions
Problem gamblers are more likely to drink or use other substances. This can be an incredibly dangerous mix because those under the influence are likely to make even more impulsive decisions around gambling.
When people are surrounded by people who gamble, they can feel peer pressure to gamble themselves. This is especially common with children who are in the presence of their parents who gamble heavily.
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Types of Gamblers
Professional gamblers are people who work or study in the gambling industry. They are not necessarily addicted to gambling, but they play in order to earn more money for themselves, for their families, or for charities that they support. The difference between a professional gambler and a casual gambler is that the professional gambler has a job to do when he/she plays. As a result, he/she needs to stay focused and plan ahead. That being said, professional gamblers can fall victim to problem gambling like anyone else.
People who cannot control their gambling and impulsive behaviour. These individuals are at the highest risk of developing problem gambling and are likely to have pre-existing conditions such as ADHD.
Which Forms of Gambling are Addictive?
Any form of gambling can be addictive, but online betting presents many concerns due to accessibility.
Online casinos are the ones that offer a variety of games for players to play, including blackjack, roulette, video poker, and slots. These casinos tend to offer bonuses for signing up, which further entice individuals to deposit larger sums of money to take advantage of these sign up bonuses. In many cases, these ‘bonuses’ come with terms that prevent individuals from withdrawing funds until they have played through a certain amount of money. For problem gamblers, these welcome bonuses provide a false sense of security, and lead to further problems.
Online Slots & Fruit Machines
Many of the UK online slots come packed with features such as free spins and random bonus games that further entice individuals. Online slots also operate a staking system which allows gamblers to spin and burn through large amounts of money with a click of a button. While limitations have been put in place on some of these betting machines (fixed-odds betting terminals), it is still possible to lose hundreds if not thousands of pounds within a short period of time.
Sports betting tends to start as a hobby or social event with friends. There are many ways to bet on sports events such as accumulators (betting on the outcome of multiple sporting events), the number of goals scored in a game, or the round in which a sporting event is stopped. In recent years, online bookies have introduced welcome bonuses and “cash out” schemes in real time which create further dopamine hits.
Game Loot Boxes (Video Games)
Game Loot Boxes (or Gambling Boxes) are used by game developers to monetise their free-to-play games. A loot box is a virtual item that can contain different in-game items, boosters, currencies and some sort of special item. The difference between game loot boxes and gambling boxes is that game loot boxes do not contain money or any other real world value (e.g., chips, coins), however, loot boxes have been heavily criticized in recent years, with many reports of children using their parents credit card to purchase in game boxes. It is also questionable as to whether children should be exposed to loot boxes regardless of whether they are real items or not, since it is still a form of gambling that children are being exposed to from a young age.
Signs & Symptoms
Can You Recognise a Problem Gambler Without Knowing Them? Yes, even without being very close with another person, you can make educated guesses about a potential problem with gambling based on their behaviour, the conversations you have, and their performance during recreational activities, social events, university, or at work. For example, a person with a gambling problem may talk a lot about their hobby, may report mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and may struggle at work.
It’s essential to note that the point of recognising a problem with gambling is not to blame, stigmatise, and isolate the individual. People don’t decide to get addicted on a whim, very often, it happens accidentally or in a desperate attempt to cope with other issues like stress, trauma, and mental health issues. Recognising gambling addiction in others should be a tool for good, bringing greater awareness about the symptoms and signs so that those struggling can receive the support and guidance they need to overcome their illness.
A person may feel as if they have no other option than to gamble, and as a result, they may become obsessed with gambling. If a person feels that gambling is becoming a problem for them, it is important that they talk to their family members and friends about their concerns.
Depression and Anxiety
People who gamble excessively often feel a great deal of sadness and anxiety, even when they’re not gambling. This is because they know that gambling can cause them to lose a lot of money, and this causes them to consider how they’ll pay for their losses. If these feelings don’t go away even when the person is not gambling, they may be suffering from depression or anxiety related to their gambling.
Dark Circles under eyes
People who spend a great deal of time gambling may develop dark circles under their eyes. This is because spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen can cause the eyes to become strained and fatigued. The person will also be losing a significant amount of sleep due to late night gambling sessions.
Self Harming Tendencies
Some people who gamble excessively often harm themselves in some way. They may do things such as cut themselves, scratch their skin, or cause physical harm to themselves in any way. This is because they feel that they deserve to suffer and lose money due to the amount of money that they have already lost by gambling, or out of anger or frustration with themselves.
Withdrawal from socialising
It is not uncommon for people to cut back on their social activities when they’re addicted to gambling. This can be due to lack of money due to gambling, or gambling obsessions that take priority over other social activities.
It is also common for people who are addicted to gambling to engage in constant pessimism about themselves and the future. They may say things like “My life is ruined” or “I’ll never get out of debt.”
Increasing stakes to enjoy the same thrill
Gambling addiction may cause a person to increase the amount of money that they bet in order to enjoy the same thrill that they would have otherwise. This often leaves them with more losses than wins, which can lead to feelings of suicide.
People who gamble excessively often feel as if they’re constantly restless, and need to spend time gambling or thinking about gambling. Social Interactions are affected
Many people who are addicted to gambling find that they have trouble engaging in meaningful conversations. This is because they often find that they have nothing to say to others, or they are experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression after losing money.
Escapism from real problems
Gambling addiction is a common escape from real problems. People who view gambling as a source of fun and pleasure may decide that it is a better option for them to escape from their real problems.
Attempts to recover the lost money
People who are addicted to gambling may turn to it as a way to recover the money that they have lost. This can be especially true if they have lost large sums of money. In an attempt to make up financial losses, problem gamblers may take bigger risks in attempt to make bigger wins.
Resorting theft or fraud for money
Some people who are addicted to gambling resort to stealing or fraud in order to get the money they need to gamble. This is often done to cover up their losses, or in an effort to win back money that they have lost.
Poor General Health
Many people who are addicted to gambling may turn to unhealthy habits as a way to cope with their decisions. They may also lack the motivation and energy to exercise and be active, which can cause them to feel very tired. Like many addictions, the individual will often neglect their own health to pursue their addictive behaviours.
Poor work/job performance
Many people who are addicted to gambling may not be able to work effectively and efficiently. This can lead to poor job performance and difficulties making it to work on time. Problem gamblers are more likely to take time off sick, and will pursue gambling activities during work time or on lunch breaks out of compulsion.
Making a commitment to stop gambling is the first step towards recovery. Assuming you have already made attempts to quit – such as through the Gamcare service, support groups or other means, treating the underlying causes of problem gambling and preventing further financial ruin may require residential treatment. You will stay at The Providence Projects to complete primary treatment which will give you the necessary skills needed for long-term abstinence.
As part of your primary treatment with us, you will engage in evidence-based therapies that are designed to tackle the root cause of compulsive gambling, which include cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing and relapse prevention.
During treatment, you will not have access to gambling so you can focus on yourself without distractions.
To learn more about primary treatment, please give our friendly team a call today or visit our primary treatment page here.