When you are participating in a particular behavior, whether it is gambling or the consumption of alcohol, regardless of the detrimental effects of that behavior, then an addiction has set in. You have lost your power to that behavior and you continue to gamble, drink, or use drugs despite the unfavorable consequences. This powerlessness is indicative of an addiction.
Gambling as a Social Activity
Gambling is a popular social activity. For many individuals, it can be entertaining, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. When gambling is only a social activity and not an addiction, it tends to have the following characteristics:
- Gambling is fun and there is no worry about money.
- Usually people avoid high-risk games knowing the dangers and consequences of losing large sums of money.
- Although some people might play regularly, they have the ability to limit their playing to once or twice per week and to keep their playing among friends.
What Makes Gambling Addicting?
However, the financial rewards of gambling can lead to a gradual loss of control over gambling behavior. When people lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in. The 1998 film Rounders with Matt Damon and Edward Norton highlight the dangers of gambling. The movie tells the story of two friends who need to quickly make a large sum of money in order to pay off a debt. The name of the movie takes after the term given to someone who travels from city to city looking for high-risk cash gambling games.
Although the movie did not become a blockbuster, it’s become an icon among those who are highly involved in playing poker games, which are growing in popularity. As this movie indicates, gambling can have a dangerous pull. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 15 percent of Americans gamble at least once per week, and approximately two to three percent of Americans meet the criteria for problem gambling. This translates to around 6 million adults and about a half million teens.
The Effects of Gambling
As people continue to gamble and the loss of control over playing sets in, there might be a decline in work performance, neglect of home responsibilities, loss of friends, and declining relationships. A person might experience continued money problems, possibly affecting relationships with friends and family members. Those relationship might also be affected because someone might be spending so much time playing online or at casinos or among gambling peers, rather than with family. There might also be the beginning signs of criminal activity in order to pay off gambling debts, which could lead to jail time and further criminal activity. A person addicted to gambling might also become associated with dangerous individuals who might become threatening if debts are not paid off.
The following are red flags to look for if there is suspicion that you or someone you know might be developing a gambling addiction:
- 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 school or work
- Making frequent calls to 900 gambling numbers.
- Spending large amounts of hours online
Gambling can be a fun social activity that people participate in from time to time. However, when the above red flags are present, then the activity has gone from a social one to a pathological one and, like any addiction, necessitates treatment.
Treatment for gambling often includes psychotherapy, support groups, and possibly group therapy. Fortunately, medication is not necessary as in an addiction to drugs and alcohol where the ending of an addiction has physical withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is treatable with the right treatment measures, and this includes an addiction to gambling.