Like most dependencies, a gambling addiction likely won’t feel like an addiction until it’s already too late. It starts harmlessly as a fun diversion or social activity, but before you realize it, it’s become an unhealthy obsession – one that can have dire consequences on your personal life, finances, and relationships.
Though some people and personality types are more likely to gamble compulsively than others it can happen to anyone, of any age or gender, at virtually any time.
Here are some statistics about gamblers in the United States:
- 2.6 percent of the population of the United States has a gambling addiction – nearly 10 million people!
- 80 percent of Americans gamble on a yearly basis
- Gambling costs Americans about 6 billion dollars per year
- Men are more than 10 times more likely to develop a gambling problem than women
- Youth and young adults aged 16-24 are the most likely age group to develop a gambling addiction. The second most likely age group is adults age 35-44.
- Those with mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and substance abuse disorders are more susceptible to gambling addiction
Defining gambling addiction
Gambling addiction – also known as pathological or compulsive gambling – is a more prevalent issue than most people realize. Like any addiction, it’s activated by the reward centers of the brain in response to any internal or external stimuli that makes you happy. Many people are especially susceptible to compulsive gambling because of the excitement it elicits, and the thrill associated with potentially winning big.
Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder, meaning you can’t control your impulses even when you’re aware of the negative consequences it’s likely to cause. Dependency can begin quickly or progress slowly. However, addiction tends to develop at a faster rate in those who engage in continuous forms of gambling, like casinos and slot machines, but at a slower rate in people who gamble in ways that allow for more time between bets, like horse races and card games.
Remember, gambling doesn’t necessarily have to be an addiction in order for it to be a problem. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems – regardless of whether or not a person is addicted.
Identifying a gambling addiction
If you suspect that someone close to you, such as a family member or friend, may have a gambling problem, rest assured that you are not alone. Though gambling is a widespread issue, it’s very important to understand that it’s normal for those afflicted to conceal their behaviour out of an often-overpowering sense of guilt or shame.
Diagnosing someone with a compulsive gambling disorder involves looking at a broad variety of signs and factors. Here are four key signs to look for to help identify whether someone you know has a gambling problem.
The person may behave erratically and quick to become angry, aggressive, or irritable. They may also fluctuate quickly between emotional highs and lows for mysterious reasons.
The person may regularly ask for loans or be unable to pay their bills.
The person may become more generous than usual with their money after big wins.
The person may stop spending time with friends and family and will abandon their usual hobbies.
Other important signs include insomnia, restlessness, missing work/commitments, interpersonal difficulties, depression and anxiety, lack of motivation and concentration, verbal and physical abuse, and even criminal activity such as stealing or fraud to support their addiction.
If you’ve identified a gambling addiction in a family member or loved one, take the following steps to help show your support and get them help in a way that is loving and accepting.
Acknowledging the problem involves the person with the gambling addiction willingly admitting that it’s become a problem. If they’re unwilling to admit to their addiction, the following steps will simply not work.
Talking to them about their addiction means having an open discussion with the person about the issue and the problems it is causing. Be polite, empathetic, and non-accusatory.
Supporting them through it involves being understanding without enabling them. Don’t offer them money. Don’t pay off their debts.
Avoiding judgment involves acknowledging thatgambling is an understandable problem to have. It’s easy for anyone to develop a gambling problem, so trying to understand and empathize with what they’re going through is key to their recovery.
Encouraging Treatment involves looking into an outpatient rehabilitation program and seeing if the person would be willing to attend.
How we can help a gambling addiction
Many people try to deal with their gambling problems themselves using therapy, medications, self-help groups, and by expanding their support system. Though self-betterment in this way is admirable, it’s proven to be more effective in a controlled environment.
At Tikvah Lake, we offer a progressive and comprehensive gambling treatment program that uses a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, personalized treatment, and a calm, supportive environment.
Our rehab is isolated (quite literally!) from everyday life and the negative triggers that may influence and fuel a gambling addiction, and our personalized treatments help arm our patients with the tools needed to overcome their gambling addiction in a satisfying, long-term way.
Contact us today for more information!