Many people can enjoy gambling without it becoming a problem, but over time, some people develop a gambling addiction that can ruin their lives. Compulsive gambling is a progressive illness, so even if you’ve gambled before and been okay, a problem could develop later on. The urge to gamble can be overwhelming, leading someone to lie, steal, blow through their savings and miss out on the rest of their lives. Several signs indicate when normal enjoyment of gambling transitions into a problem. The earlier the process is identified, the better the chances for a successful recovery. Although compulsive gambling is hard to overcome, many people are able to manage their illness with professional help.
Understanding a Gambling Compulsion
A gambling compulsion can begin the first time someone places a bet, or it could gradually progress into an addiction over time. According to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, how long it takes someone to develop a problem varies by the individual, though compulsions tend develop more quickly in people who engage in continuous forms of gambling, such as online betting or using slot machines. Some gamblers find themselves showing symptoms of a compulsion in less than a year when doing this type of gambling. People who bet on horse races or play card games that allow for natural breaks in play might not develop a gambling problem until they’ve been gambling for a lot longer.
How to Diagnose Compulsive Gambling
Experts don’t know specifically what leads to compulsive gambling. Many factors could contribute to the problem, such as hereditary or environmental factors. Diagnosing a gambling problem involves looking for signs someone is out of control. Possible signs of a gambling problem include:
Spending more money on gambling than one can afford
Difficulties in personal relationships caused by gambling
Gambling getting in the way of work
An inability to cut back or stop gambling
Spending more time gambling than before
Attempting to hide gambling from friends or medical professionals
Stealing or committing fraud to support gambling
Asking for loans to cover gambling debts
How to Recognize an Addictive Gambler
Although compulsive gamblers often share the trait of low self-esteem, two main types of compulsive gamblers are common: escape gamblers and actions gamblers. Recognizing a compulsive gambler is easier if you know the characteristics of each type. An action gambler is someone who likes to play games involving skill and beating the odds. Poker is an example of an action game. These types of gamblers are often extroverted, self-confident and even arrogant. An escape gambler views gambling as a form of escapism, seeing it as a distraction from real life. These gamblers can appear withdrawn, unhappy or introverted.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs indicate compulsive gamblers approach gambling as a means to escape problems or feelings, such as depression, guilt or helplessness. Some other ways to recognize a compulsive gambler include looking for signs of:
A preoccupation with gambling
Gradually taking more risks
Reliving memories of gambling
Guilt or remorse following gambling
Taking time off work to gamble
Steps You Can Take to Help Someone With a Gambling Problem
If you suspect someone you know has a gambling problem, ways to help are available; however, the most important thing you can do is to encourage them to get help from a professional. It’s important to remember that even though a person’s gambling has affected you to the point where you’re ready for them to change, they might not be ready yet. You can offer support and seek professional help with how to proceed, but you can’t make someone ready to change.
Talking to Someone With Gambling Problems
Although it can be challenging to confront someone about a gambling problem, the best thing you can do is to start by asking someone if the problem exists, according to the Victoria State Government. Although you might not get a straight answer and you won’t know how someone will react, if you approach someone in a non-confrontational way, you might get some useful information.
When talking to someone with a gambling problem, remember that if you want someone to be honest with you, be honest yourself. Letting someone know you suspect a problem and are worried, in a supportive and concerned manner, is more likely to work than being deceptive, judgmental or aggressive. Talk about how you’re feeling and what you’ve observed as these things are less likely to trigger an argument. Some people with gambling problems will be relieved and grateful the subject was broached, as they want to talk about it. Other people might not want to talk because they’re ashamed and could become defensive. If a person lies about having a problem, you can still say you care about your loved one and give them information on where to get help.
If a discussion about gambling becomes circular or confrontational, take a break and pick up the subject later. Always keep the lines of communication open.
Adolescents and Teens
Adolescents and teens are at risk for developing a gambling problem. Compulsive gambling generally starts when someone is in their late teens. Occasionally, people even become addicted the first time they gamble. Other times, the problem starts in the teen years and progresses as people’s lives become more stressful. Teens can gamble casually, but times of stress or depression might trigger overwhelming gambling urges.
Learning to Cope With a Gambling Addiction
Learning to cope with a gambling addiction can be challenging because at one time gambling might not have been an addiction for you. Gambling is also everywhere, readily available to suck you back in. Having a sponsor or designated person to help you resist the desire to gamble again might be particularly useful. Some things you can tell yourself to avoid a relapse and stay focused on recovery include:
Even one bet can trigger a relapse
It’s okay to ask for help
Turn thoughts to the goal of not gambling
Avoid people and situations that encourage betting
You can make it easier on yourself to live with a gambling addiction if you identify your gambling triggers and stay away from them. Ongoing therapy helps manage the condition. Treatment for compulsive gambling includes learning tools to cope with gambling urges, so the successful completion of a program is important for long-term success.
How to Treat Gambling
Three main ways exist to treat gambling problems, including psychotherapy, medication and support groups. Cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior therapy help a person identify thought patterns that lead to and support a gambling problem, and replace them with healthier beliefs.
Some gamblers respond well to antidepressants, narcotic antagonists and mood stabilizer medications. Oftentimes, a person with a gambling addiction also suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorder, so medication or therapy to treat those conditions can alleviate gambling addiction. Gamblers Anonymous and other self-help groups help many people as well.
Deciding Between Gambling Addiction Solutions
The type of treatment that works for one person might be vastly different than what’s effective for someone else. Seeking an evaluation from a professional and discussing treatment options is the best way to choose the right gambling addiction solutions for you.