With many things in our lives now happening online, people can do virtually everything without so much as leaving the couch — even gamble. But what starts as a fun leisure activity can turn into an issue: just like smoking or drinking, gambling may become an addiction with dire consequences.
Now that players can gamble whenever and wherever they want, gambling is an even more pressing matter than ever before.
Where does gambling come from?
But where does it come from? Like most things, from our childhood. An innocent game of cards for candy or a $1 lottery ticket might seem completely harmless but might also fuel existing personal vulnerabilities.
No child wants to lose a game, but some children are more competitive than others. Perhaps you even remember a childhood friend with a sparkle in their eyes, the one who was always hell-bent on winning? Or maybe you were that child. It’s good to be competitive, but some individuals take it too far and go on to develop unhealthy habits.
In this blog post, we will go over some signs of problem gambling and give a brief overview of different tools and techniques which can help to get this unhealthy habit under control. If you recognize yourself or someone close to you in this blog post, don’t wait for things to get worse and get the support you need.
When does gambling become an addiction?
It’s not always easy to recognize that someone no longer gambles for fun and has started to develop an addiction. But here are a few signs you can look out for:
- You can’t stop. Finding it impossible to stop is one of the most obvious signs of compulsive gambling. All addictions operate on the same mental mechanism — the reward center in our brain. So a gambler can’t stop playing in the same way a regular smoker can’t quit smoking. It becomes essential to feeling happy, and it’s difficult to find pleasure in anything else. If for some reason an addicted gambler can’t play, they may become agitated, frustrated, angry, or even depressed. But just like with any other addiction, they will always find the means to satisfy the craving, whether it’s borrowing money or calling in sick to make more time for playing.
Just like a smoker knows that smoking is unhealthy, a gambler knows full well about the risks of gambling. But even then, it’s hard to resist going for another spin — the craving is too strong, and can be felt almost on a physical level.
- You lose money. It is universally known that the house always wins in the long haul. This means that the player’s chances of winning are very small. But since gamblers crave the thrill of a win, they will often gamble until they lose every last cent. At first, they may not give it much thought. After all, you can always win the money back, or work more to make up for the losses. Or that’s what addicted gamblers think. The reality is that you can’t win money back — that’s an illusion miles away from how casinos actually work. Chasing losses will only make you lose more money than you have already lost or can earn.
Once the gambler has been sucked into this vicious cycle of losing and chasing, they start borrowing money or selling their belongings, burying themselves even deeper in debt. If you started gambling with borrowed money or money intended for necessities like food and bills, it’s a clear sign that gambling has become an issue and needs to be taken under control asap.
- You are unhappy. Another red flag is regretting it after, and this has a lot to do with the chemical processes that happen in the brain. We all have a set of hormones responsible for our happiness — dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. When we do something we enjoy, our brain releases dopamine. This increases the levels of serotonin, which in turn triggers the production of oxytocin. That’s the chain of chemical reactions that causes a burst of euphoria and makes us feel happy. This is why every time an alcohol addict has that first sip or a smoker takes the first puff, the feeling of satisfaction strives in. The same thing happens when an addicted gambler rolls the dice and wins.
But the problem is that levels of happiness hormones eventually drop, and if what caused the spike is the only thing we rely on in life to be happy, we may come back to a very sad and depressing reality once it’s over. Seeing the aftermath without the veil of happiness, an addicted gambler may experience intense feelings of regret, shame, and anger, causing them to lash out or shut down.
The easiest way to get happiness levels back up is by indulging in the source of enjoyment again and again, repeating the same cycle of gratification followed by remorse. Ruined relationships, financial difficulties, job loss, and low motivation are only a few of the negative consequences of a gambling addiction.
Is gambling ever safe?
Gambling in itself is not the demon it’s often made out to be. When done right, it can be an enjoyable and exciting pastime. Players who want to stay in control and enjoy the game often follow a certain set of rules helping to prevent gambling from becoming addictive. Here are just a few you can follow:
- Stick to a budget and put a time limit on how much you can gamble;
- Think of gambling as one of the many ways to spend leisure time, but never as a means to make money;
- Cap your alcohol intake and clear away from other intoxicating substances;
- Gamble with your own money, and only that which you can spare;
- Never borrow money for gambling;
- If you lose, don’t try to win the money back;
- Gamble at respectable casinos;
- Do other recreational activities every once in a while;
- Take breaks from gambling, whether it’s a short pause during a session or some time off in general.
While these tips might be useful to those who have a healthy relationship with gambling, they are not easy to follow if the issue has already started taking shape. If thoughts about gambling are accompanied by feelings of anxiety or even anger, it’s time to take stronger measures. Luckily, there are a number of methods available to get destructive gambling habits back under control.
What is gambling awareness?
Since gambling can be a dangerous playground, the industry has implemented certain measures, which are collectively referred to as responsible gambling. Besides ensuring fair operations, these measures are meant to raise players’ awareness about the potential damage of problem gambling and protect them from the possible negative consequences.
Responsible gambling provides players with a variety of practical tools that can help them gamble in a healthy way. Some of these are enforced by casinos, while others are issued on a state level. Here is a quick rundown of the most prominent ones:
Self-exclusion. Gamblers have the option to exclude themselves from playing for a period of time of their choosing. Most casinos around the world offer this option, with time periods varying from 12 hours to six months. During the selected period, the gambler will not be allowed to play even if they directly contact gambling platform and ask for it.
Setting limits. Most casinos will give you the option to limit your resources, such as budget, gambling time, loss, bet sizing, and many more. Even if you ask, you will not be allowed to exceed the set limits, which might help with maintaining moderation.
Reality check. Online gambling can make keeping track of time and money even harder than traditional casinos. To this end, many online casinos offer the reality check tool, which is a pop-up alert notifying you about how much time and money you have spent playing. While it doesn’t limit you in any way, the hard facts may help you evaluate if you’ve gone too far.
Close the account. This option might seem like the most radical, but that’s actually not the case. In many casinos, it might be difficult and tedious to close your account for good, and some will allow you to reopen it upon request. So, if gambling has become a serious problem, this option is the least effective.
GAMSTOP. For residents within the UK, the government offers a free online self-exclusion scheme, which restricts players from using gambling websites and apps licensed in Great Britain. Players can choose to self-exclude for a time period of 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years.
Spelpaus. Similar to GAMSTOP, Spelpaus is a Swedish national self-exclusion scheme. It not only blocks players’ access to online casinos but also prevents them from receiving any gambling-related communication, such as advertising emails. Swedish gamblers can choose to self-exclude for one month, three months, six months, or indefinitely.
The unified self-exclusion scheme by the Malta Gaming Authority. Although the scheme has not been launched yet, it is expected to have a unified system that will exclude players from all remote gaming operators licensed by the MGA.
Take things into your own hands
Besides measures offered by casinos and governments, there are certain tools anyone can use on their own initiative. These include different apps and software which block access to gambling websites and advertisements. Some of the most popular include Gamban, GamBlock, Net Nanny, BetBlocker, and many more. You might have to pay for these, but it certainly pays off in the long run.
But all of the methods mentioned above can treat only the symptoms, not the issue itself. The causes of addiction often have nothing to do with our physical health, but rather with our mental one. To get to the core of the problem and find out why it occurred in the first place, psychotherapy is a much better option.
|Where can I look for help?|
A licensed psychotherapist will help you realize why exactly you have a compulsive urge to play: Is it some kind of compensation? Is it really money you are trying to win? Addressing such questions may produce life-changing answers and revelations, helping you stitch your life back together.
Gambling can be fun, or it can be destructive — the choice is yours.