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Gambling Addiction Misconceptions: The Risk of Great Loss

Statistics say that 80% of Americans have tried gambling and 5% of those players will end up with a gambling addiction. Problem gambling is an umbrella term that sums up all types of the gambling addiction symptoms. They are very similar to substance abuse behaviors. A gambling addiction compromises every aspect of a person’s life including finances, family, and career. The National Council on Problem Gambling state the gambling symptoms cause a person to bet more money on a more frequent basis. A gambler will become restless if they try to abstain from playing. Gamblers will often reason that they need to chase their losses but this is merely an excuse. The truth is, gambling addiction is no different than any other kind of addiction. You’re willing to lose everything you have to get the high of gambling.

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Symptoms of Gambling Addiction That are Similar to Substance Addiction

The APA has found that symptoms of gambling behaviors are similar to substance addiction. As the gambling addict’s behavior is so similar to those with substance addictions, the results are the same. This includes significant loss in life like divorce, loss of your home, family, and friends. Like the alcoholic, gamblers will continue the behavior despite the loss. They crave the high of gambling, they hide their behavior, lie to keep playing, and may get involved with criminal activity to feed their addiction. Compulsive gambling is a major public health problem. It is an illness that requires gambling addiction treatment methods.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction That are Similar to Substance Addiction

The APA has found that symptoms of gambling behaviors are similar to substance addiction. As the gambling addict’s behavior is so similar to those with substance addictions, the results are the same. This includes significant loss in life like divorce, loss of your home, family, and friends. Like the alcoholic, gamblers will continue the behavior despite the loss. They crave the high of gambling, they hide their behavior, lie to keep playing, and may get involved with criminal activity to feed their addiction. Compulsive gambling is a major public health problem. It is an illness that requires gambling addiction treatment methods.

Gambling Addicts Behavior

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies problem gambling based on behaviors exhibited. For a person to be considered a gambling addict, you will have to follow at least four of the following behaviors.

  • Tolerance of gambling increases. You need to gamble with more money to gain desired excitement.
  • You become restless and irritable when cutting down or abstaining from gambling.
  • Although you try, you can’t abstain from gambling.
  • You relive your past experiences while you gambling, plan your next gambling experience, and think of ways to get the money you need to gamble.
  • You may feel distressed while gambling.
  • When you lose, you’ll return to chase your losses.
  • You lie to hide your gambling activity.
  • You jeopardize important relationships, your job, or your home due to gambling.
  • You rely on other to help you with the financial problems, creating co-dependent relationships.

Compulsive Gambling Doesn’t Imply Financial Problems

Those with an addiction to gambling will not always have financial problems. While gambling can cause a player to lose their money, it’s not the gambling addiction definition. Gamblers aren’t even playing for the money. They play because it boosts endorphins in the brain which alleviates stress. Gambling is an obsession and the anticipation is as important to the compulsive gambler as the win is. The issue behind chronic gambling is not a financial one, it’s due to a change in the brain. It’s an illness and a disorder.

Biological Factors of Problem Gambling

Although many people try gambling, only a small percentage of people will become addicted to gambling. It’s believed the biological factor of dopamine may be the culprit. For those who don’t develop the brain chemical dopamine as easily as others, they are more susceptible to become addicts. This may explain why a large percentage of people who do gamble compulsively are also addicted to other substances. A high percentage will also have mood disorders associated with a reduced amount of dopamine.

Gambling Addiction Runs in the Family

Studies have found that having a relative with a gambling problem puts you eight times more at risk. It was also found that people with relatives who had a gambling problem, they were 11% more likely to have behavioral problems of some sort. A gambling disorder tends to run in families, but environmental factors may also contribute, notes the APA. Symptoms of the disorder can begin as early as adolescence or as late as older adulthood. Men are more likely to begin at a younger age and women are more likely to begin later in life.

Mood Disorders and Those Addicted to Gambling

There is a strong connection between mood disorders and gambling addiction. It is complex and the two can feed off one another, causing each to become more problematic. This co-occurring disorder is challenging to treat. One-third of pathological gamblers have a close relative with a major mood disorder. For recovering gamblers in inpatient treatment, the depression rates ranged from 50%-75%. They also have higher rates of chronic depression. Gamblers have reported that they gamble so they can let go of their troubles. They look to avoid feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Scientists take this as evidence that gamblers play to cope with how they feel.

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Mood Disorders, Substance Abuse and Gambling Addiction Incidence

Gambling addiction statistics show high incidence of specific mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety disorder, substance abuse disorders, and anti-social personality disorder are the most common. Research found gambling disorders were coupled with the following percentages:

  • Alcohol disorder – 72%
  • Drug addiction – 38%
  • Nicotine addiction – 60%
  • Mood Disorder (depression or bi-polar disorder) – 50%
  • Anxiety Disorder (phobias, general anxiety disorder) – 41%
  • Personality Disorder (Obsessive compulsive disorder, antisocial) – 61%

This can include things like antisocial disorders and social anxiety with overlaps of mood disorders and substance abuse. Problem gambling and psychiatric disorders are connected.

High Percentage of Young Compulsive Gamblers

The main demographics for compulsive gambling are those aged between 20 to 30 years old. There are as many as 750,000 young people aged 14-21 that have a gambling addiction in the US. Up to 75% of college students reported that they had gambled within the past 12 months. For those in college setting, the risk of developing a gambling addiction is double. There is an estimated 6% of college students who are struggling with gambling problems. Gambling on campus is the perfect storm. Here’s why:

  • The age of college students are associated with risky behaviors.
  • It’s the first generation that’s been exposed to legal gambling on such a wide scale.
  • Thanks to technology, placing bets are far easier.
  • Sport betting, which 67% of college students take part in is promoted as sport.
  • The average college student will receive around 25 credit card solicitations over the course of a semester.

Gambling and Criminal Acts

Studies have found a strong connection between gambling addiction and crime. A study from Georgia State University found that 50% of problem gamblers commit crimes. The worse the gambling gets, the more severe the criminal acts. Gambling addiction in criminal offenders supersede those who are non-offenders. Effects of gambling addiction does include a higher probability of criminal acts to gain funds for further gambling.

Problem Gamblers and the Losses They Face

Serious negative effects of gambling addiction include great loss. The pathological gambling symptoms cause social, emotional, financial, and health consequences. Work issues will likely arise and gamblers are willing to commit illegal acts. Depending on the financial situation of the person, rent or mortgages can go unpaid causing the loss of their home. Any money that is in holding such as retirement savings or post-secondary education savings will be spent on gambling. Statistics show that 65% of marriages will end in divorce when a spouse has a gambling addiction. Squandering away money will cause a family breakdown as the person has no regard for others. Health problems ensue as compulsive gambling has a strong connection to mental health disorders and substance abuse. Problem gamblers are at risk of developing a co-occurring disorder.

Gambling Addiction Horror Stories

Jodie Nealley was once a compulsive gambler but is now working as in Intervention and Recovery Support, offering people gambling addiction help. Her personal gambling addiction story illustrates how far some will go before they recognize they have a problem. “I began gambling heavily in 2005. By 2007, I had been fired from my job for embezzlement. By 2009, at 55 years old, I was sleeping on top bunk in prison – sentenced to two years for larceny. How could this have happened to me – a Masters educated, intelligent woman who should have known better? To someone who had an understanding of addiction? I realize now I understood it in others but I didn’t understand it myself. I didn’t realize that when I quit drinking it wasn’t enough to not drink. I never examined why I drank so much or why I smoked too much. I never looked at the hole in me I was trying to fill. As I lay on that top bunk in prison or walked around the track outside, I had time to think and I learned through the help of a 12 step program, that there wasn’t enough money in the world to fill that hole. I learned I had to fill it with something else. That is when my true recovery began.”

Celebrity Problem Gamblers

Norm MacDonald Norm MacDonald, a comedian who started his career on Saturday Night Live (SNL) said, “If you don’t win when you gamble, you’re the lucky one.” Norm gambled his fortunes to rock bottom proportions on sports betting twice. He said that if you never win, you don’t get hooked. He was a casual gambler until he won 6 figures in Atlantic City. He said once you win big, you can’t just gamble $25 bets. Charles Barkley In 2008, Charles Barkley was interviewed when he admitted he has lost about $10 million to gambling. He said he knows he has a gambling problem but doesn’t consider it a problem because he can afford to gamble. He admits to gambling too often and with too much money. He says he aims to get it under control but won’t quit gambling. Charlie Sheen Denise Richards alleged that her former husband betted on sports every day and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said he showed signs of gambling addiction mood swings, becoming volatile when he lost. He admitted to spending large amounts of money on cocaine and gambling, attributing it to an addictive personality.

Steps to Stop Gambling

Compulsive gamblers are not always easy to treat because they have a hard time admitting there’s a problem. This is why a major part of problem gambling treatment is acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place. It’s likely that a family intervention or a legal problem is the reason a gambler goes into therapy. There may be some resistance at first. Once control is regained, the gambling addict will begin to understand the correlation of gambling and their losses.

Mediation for Gambling Addiction

Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may be able to help with some compulsive gambling symptoms. Narcotic antagonists have been shown to be useful in treating substance abuse and compulsive gambling. The risk is that due to a gamblers’ biology, they may become addicted. If the gambler is experiencing major depression, has OCD or ADHD, it may be imperative that they take medication. It isn’t recommended for every gambling addict however. The outcome could be worse than the cure itself.

Gambling Addiction Therapy

In a gambling addiction treatment plan, it should include behavior therapy. This will include exposure to the behavior the gambling addict wants to unlearn. The addict will then be taught skills to reduce urges to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps a compulsive gambler identify unhealthy, negative beliefs that have no truth to them. They replace those beliefs with healthy, positive ones. Family therapy is also helpful because it allows the gambler to feel less alone and isolated. When the family has a greater understanding of the problem, they may be more forgiving.

Self-Help Groups (Gamblers Anonymous)

Self-help groups help people to find others who have similar addiction problems to their own. A professional health care representative will know what resources are available in your area.

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our outpatient program today!”

Inpatient/Outpatient Treatment

Everybody gambles for different reasons and co-occurring disorders may have become intertwined with a gambling addiction. This can create a more serious situation where the gambler will need to go to inpatient treatment to ensure success. Treatment for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders may be a part of the treatment plan. When dealing with these other issues as well as a gambling problem, the person may need to be monitored. Outpatient treatment is also comprehensive enough that a patient gets the support they need but there’s more freedom in the event the addict needs to work. Gambling addiction stories start out with a fun trip to the casino with friends. There are a few good wins, along with some losses. For some, the chemicals in the brain that are susceptible to drug or alcohol addiction start to react to gambling in the same way. A person will feel a rush when they gamble and the desire will increase to get the rush again. This means more money spent and inevitably more money lost. They will try to chase their losses and gain control back. This process can go on for years unnoticed until the person has lost everything. Gambling is not about becoming rich, it’s about becoming a slave to addiction.