Problem gambling isn’t usually a problem for those who are gambling. Instead, it’s spouses, family members, co-workers, and bosses who feel the burden of a gambler’s addiction to winning and losing. Those who are addicted tend to use gambling as a way to cope with strong feelings of anxiety. They tend to project the anxious feelings upon the excitement of winning. Gambling addiction problems are usually related to underlying issues such as anxiety, impulsivity, and stress. Because of this a person may not recognize they have a problem with gambling.
How Gambling Becomes an Addiction
Gamblers find a high in the rush of winning, just as a heroin addict might find a high in heroin. Yet, it’s the partial reinforcement that really plays a role in the obsession to gamble. For instance, a gambler might sometimes win big and sometimes lose big and never really know what’s going to happen. This sets the stage for obsession.
As the obsession grows, an addicted gambler might feel as though they have little control over their ability to play. This might be considered similar to an addict’s inability to say no to drinking, Compulsive behavior, whether it’s gambling or drinking or using drugs, is a classic sign of addiction.
However, gambling addiction isn’t a true addiction. In fact, it’s considered to be an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is an illness that always begins with an obsessive thought. Then, as a result of the thought, a person has a compulsion to behave in a certain way. And that’s where the obsessive-compulsive comes in.
For instance, a common obsession that person with OCD might have is worrying that something bad is going to happen. As a result, that person might obsess about whether the doors are locked and continue to lock the doors over and over again. Or they might obsess about germs and feel the need to continue to wash their hands. In the same way, a person might obsess about winning and compulsively play in order try to win.
Signs of a Gambling Addiction
As mentioned above, someone who gambles frequently may not see a problem in themselves. It’s often a family member or friend who may see signs of gambling addiction. These signs include:
- Selling personal belongings
- Borrows money and does not return the loan
- Stealing and lying to friends and family
- Possessing large amounts of money without good explanation
- Possessing a great deal of debt
- Receiving a number of phone calls from strangers
- Isolation from friends and family
- Growing absences from work
- Making frequent calls to 900 gambling numbers.
- Spending large amounts of hours online
In America, gambling is a popular social activity. For many individuals, it can be entertaining, fulfilling, fun, and financially rewarding. When gambling is a social activity and not an addiction, there is little worry about money. However, gambling can slowly become a significant problem in one’s life.
In fact, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 15% of Americans gamble at least once per week, and approximately two to three percent (approximately 6 million) of Americans meet the criteria for gambling addiction.
Yet, as mentioned above, many of those who meet the criteria for gambling addiction might not recognize that there is a problem. A person might agree to get help if they are pressured by family members or when a judge orders therapy a part of a person’s probation (if their debts incur legal trouble).
If and when a person does enter treatment for a gambling addiction, learning to relax might be one of the steps in recovery. Because problem gambling is due to an obsession, a lack of impulse control, and compulsive behavior, relaxation tools can help. In fact, research shows that techniques of relaxation can help ease the impulse to gamble, making it easier to avoid and ignore temptations to gamble.
Relaxation practices might include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. With a regular practice of relaxation (ideally a daily one), a person who is in recovery from gambling can avoid relapses.
It’s also important that a person have healthy coping tools. When someone doesn’t have healthy coping mechanisms to face the stress in life, they might turn to pleasurable experiences as a means to feel better, such as sex, shopping, or gambling.
Lastly, recovery from gambling addiction might also include therapy to explore how life circumstances are contributing to the addiction and any underlying stressors. Seeing a mental health provider on a regular basis can be useful in making healthy choices and staying clear of gambling once and for all.