For most people, gambling is a great way to spend their leisure time. The games are enjoyable and challenging in different ways, and there are plenty of opportunities to win big. Any money that they win is a bonus, not a necessity, won with funds they can afford to lose, and they do not need to escape their daily life or get their sense of self-worth from their gambling activities.
For some people, though, the reality of gambling is quite different. Rather than being fun and carefree, it’s fraught with tension and compulsive behaviour. Problem gambling and addiction to gambling is very complex, with many causes and contributing factors. A few things do seem to be common in most sufferers, and it is these signs that family and friends can use to help those who are struggling.
Spotting Gambling Addiction
- Lying: People will usually lie about their gambling behaviour and any results from it, which they will feel ashamed about. This may also be part of a bigger problem, where someone is lying about many things in their life.
- Chasing losses: Problem gamblers are always looking for the high that comes from knowing they are on top.
- Borrowing money: Gambling more and more will eventually deplete funds, and those who are addicted will borrow from institutions, family and friends.
- Always betting more: To get the same level of thrill, a problem gambler, like any addict, often needs to increase their dose.
- Obsession with gambling: Over time, problem gamblers find it impossible to focus on or plan anything except gambling activities.
- Socially withdrawing if unable to gamble: People begin to lose confidence and to not know how to behave when not in gambling situations.
- Stealing or committing fraud to gamble: As their losses mount and they still can’t stop, many people make their lives even more unmanageable by moving to criminal activities when they feel they can no longer borrow from anyone.
- Unexplained mood swings: People will feel happy and elated when they can gamble, and depressed or full of self-loathing when they can’t. They usually struggle to manage or moderate both extremes.
- Other signs: As an individual becomes more obsessed with and addicted to gambling, their focus on other things and their sense of who they are can be eroded. This can translate to a lack of attention in all other areas of their life, and a lack of self-care. Look out for changes in a person’s job situation, sleeping habits, weight, appearance and cleanliness.
Dealing with Addiction
All you can really do for someone who is a problem gambler is confront them with evidence of their problem and set boundaries with them – and, of course, not give them any money. Intervention and change takes time and may require several attempts, and will not be effective until the individual is ready to change and get help.
Taking Steps Forward
It’s important for the family and friends of gambling addicts and problem gamblers to realise that the problem usually goes deeper than just the gambling behaviour. The psychological effects and causes that go along with it run deep, and individuals often need to reshape and re-evaluate their entire life and all their relationships.
For someone in recovery, from a gambling problem or any other addiction, work on themselves never stops. Identifying the problem and even getting the initial treatment for it is only the beginning. The gifts of recovery can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also very hard work. Make sure that you, as someone supporting a loved one as they deal with these issues, also take care of yourself.
Gambling addicts can be helped, and if you know someone who may be suffering you can contact Gamblers Anonymous or other similar organisations in your area. Help is never far away.