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What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, also known as problem gambling, is a compulsive pattern of prioritizing and indulging in gambling despite the 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 and turn into something excessive with high stakes in the blink of an eye. The addicted gambler may feel a sense of relief when they finish a session, but not a minute later.

Gambling addiction stems from the fact that the gambler loses control over his or her gambling activity and becomes compelled to continue gambling because of cravings. Once the consequences set in, it becomes much harder for the individual to stop. Gambling is an escape from reality and from negative consequences for many people.

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Diagnosis of Gambling Addiction

In order to diagnose gambling addiction, a team of mental health professionals uses several different assessments and tests, as well as interviews with the client’s family and friends. The underlying cause of gambling addiction is complex. Excessively playing games can often be related to issues or conditions that led to an individual’s use of these games in the first place. Therefore, treatment options must address the root cause of the problem.

Depression and Gambling

Depression is one of the most common issues that causes 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).

Gambling Cravings

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 those around him or her. Gambling addicts will often describe an overwhelming feeling of needing to gamble. This feeling may be followed by a high after winning, low after losing, and strong urges to continue gambling in order to chase these highs and lows.

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How Gambling Affects Your brain

Addiction affects the brain’s reward system by affecting certain chemicals, specifically dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in motivation and pleasurable feelings. It is thought that those who are more likely to develop an addiction have lower levels of dopamine, which can lead to a desire to seek pleasure from drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviours.

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.

Can Gambling addiction be cured or prevented?

Despite the fact that it is impossible to completely prevent or cure gambling addiction, there are certain steps that can be taken to minimise its risk and effect on one’s life and recovery.

Gambling should not be a part of your daily routine. Gambling should be enjoyed only occasionally.

Setting limits on the amount of time spent gambling for each session may help some individuals stay in ‘control’, but the majority of those hooked on gambling will not set limits on play or deposits, and even if they did, they would find ways around it by signing up to other websites.

Who is more likely to become addicted to Gambling?

The most common types of addiction are those that can be used as a way to cope with stress, to deal with low self-esteem, and as a form of escapism from reality. We already mentioned depression as one of the main reasons for gambling addiction. Other signs that one might have a problem should be unwillingness to quit gambling or to invest time into other activities.

There is no specific type of person likely to become a victim of gambling addiction because anyone could become addicted, or suffer with depression or childhood traumas. It is important to be aware of some of the factors that could cause one to develop gambling addiction. Of course, some people are more likely than others to develop an addiction due to their personality, family history, and previous traumatic events. For example, someone with a prior history of drug abuse or alcohol abuse is more likely than others to become addicted to gambling. It is also more common for those who already have financial problems or spend too much money on other vices such as drinking or smoking.

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Types of Gamblers

Professional 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.

Compulsive Gamblers

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.

Compulsive gamblers are, by definition, impulsive and risk takers.

Online Casinos

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 entices 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

Online slots are the most popular games online. They are played on a virtual machine where there is no skill involved, all you do is select how much you want to bet and the machine takes it from there. They are quick and easy to play, but many question the validity of these types of games due to fixed outcomes.

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

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.

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.

Addiction, Recovery & COVID-19: Coming out of Lockdown

Causes of Gambling Addiction:

Retirement

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.

Traumatic Circumstances

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.

Job-Related Stress

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 addiction

People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs may turn to gambling as well. This can be an incredibly dangerous mix because those under the influence are likely to make even more impulsive decisions around gambling.

Social Pressures

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.

Sign & Symptoms of Gambling Addiction:

Gambling Obsession

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.

Constant Pessimism

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.

Feeling Restless

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.

Gambling Addiction and the Impact on Children

A majority of people who gamble were raised in households that encouraged gambling. They may be exposed to the game of betting through their parents, siblings, friends, or relatives. Gambling can also be found in many different forms of entertainment media. Gambling addiction can be very prevalent in households where one or more family members has experienced an addiction. It is important to teach children the importance of controlling their impulses and making good, healthy choices in order to prevent them from developing a gambling addiction in the future.

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Getting Help for Gambling Addiction

Treating gambling addiction can be an extremely difficult process. Residential rehab programmes can often be the best form of treatment for all types of addiction.

While preventative measures may limit losses or time spent gambling, they will not treat gambling addiction.

Gambling Prevention & Limits

Gamstop is a service that allows gamblers to stop gambling through a self-exclusive blacklist. This means that if someone has a problem they can remove themselves from all forms of online gambling. Most of the UK gambling operators have signed up to the scheme, and depending on how long an individual wants to remain on the self-exclusive list, they will not be allowed to sign in to any online gambling accounts, and they will not be allowed to receive promotional emails during the self-exclusive time limit imposed.

In order to prevent someone from developing a gambling addiction, it is important that they set limits on their finances when they start playing. This is because it allows them to know what exactly they are willing to spend when they gamble, and it can also help to reduce the amount of money that they spend when there are no limits in place.

While this measure may help some individuals stay in control, those with a gambling addiction are unlikely to impose such restrictions, or will find ways to get around them (by signing up to other gambling sites).

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How to Stop Gambling & Treatment Options

Here are a few suggestions to help you break free from the addiction cycle and start your journey of healing and recovery.

1. Admit you have a problem
The first step is often the hardest. To admit you have a problem with gambling and that you need help, such as gambling programmes or therapy, requires much courage and honesty. What’s more, denial is a defining feature of addiction, so many addicts will pretend like nothing is wrong despite all evidence to the contrary. Remember, acknowledging to yourself and to those you trust that there is a problem, is the best and bravest thing you can do for yourself.

2. Hand over control of your finances to someone else
Quite simply, you can’t gamble if you don’t have any money. It can help to hand over control of your finances to someone you trust, such as a family member or a close friend. You can arrange for them to pay your bills, manage your credit cards and limit ATM access, as well as helping you start budgeting: the point is stopping your ready access to cash. This can help you start to address your gambling problem, but is by no means a permanent solution.

3. Build a support network
As every recovering addict will tell you, building a strong support network is crucial to recovery. You cannot do this alone. Addiction is a disease of isolation, and recovery is about connecting with yourself and others. There is so much support out there for those in recovery from gambling addiction.

Try attending a 12-step support group like Gambler’s Anonymous, patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. This powerful self-help model has proven success for millions worldwide, whether suffering from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex or food. Regular attendance at meetings is encouraged, as a means of receiving identification and support. A key part of the program is to find a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience in recovery and can guide and support you on your journey.

GamCare is a charity offering information, support, self-help resources and counselling for problem gamblers in the UK. It also runs the National Gambling helpline. If you need help you can call them on 0808 8020 133

The National Problem Gambling Clinic is a specialist NHS clinic for problem gamblers. You can refer yourself if aged 16 or over and living in England or Wales.

Private Rehab

Residential gambling addiction treatment is a type of treatment that requires someone to live at the facility while they are receiving treatment. This is ideal for people who have a severe addiction that they are having difficulty dealing with on their own. Living in a controlled environment can help them focus on their recovery, so they can receive the best possible care away from temptations to gamble.

During the rehab process, individuals will have internet access restricted to prevent gambling activities, and will undergo extensive therapy and treatment.

Another benefit of residential rehab is that it allows the individual to step away from stressful environments and triggers, so that they can focus on therapy without distractions.

Here at the Providence Projects, we provide a tailored gambling rehab programme and family support programme that treats the individual and their loved ones.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can be used to help someone with a gambling addiction. CBT works by changing negative patterns of thinking and helps problems gamblers to become more aware of how their emotions impact their decisions.

CBT forms part of a residential gambling rehab programme, but it can also be done with a therapist/counsellor.

Support Groups (Gamblers Anonymous)

Support groups are a great way for someone with a gambling addiction to receive help from others who have been affected by this problem. This can help reduce the isolation that someone may experience while they are recovering from a gambling addiction.

Support groups like GA follow a 12 Step framework, and allow individuals to talk about their problems with others who share similar experiences. Support groups provide problem gamblers with a support network that can help reduce the risk of relapse.

Get Help with Gambling Addiction today!

Gambling addiction can be managed effectively with the right support. Call our team of addiction counsellors today to learn more about our gambling rehab programme, and how we can support you and your loved ones through the recovery process.


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