Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction
According to the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (2007), Great Britain has relatively high rates of gambling participation in comparison to other jurisdictions. Approximately 68% of all adults, defined as those 16 years old and over, have participated in some form of gambling within the past year. There are indications that the rate may be on the rise, especially among those under the age of 24, as gambling companies advertise their products on television, sponsor professional sports, and make celebrities of top poker players.
Whilst for most people gambling remains an enjoyable, recreational activity, for a significant minority an uncontrollable dependency can develop. Not unlike alcoholism, addictive gambling can cause physical, psychological, social, and vocational problems. It can also have wider social and economic implications, leading to anxiety, depression, suicide, domestic violence, and crime.
Although the incidence of gambling addiction in Britain still ranks among the lowest rates in the developed world—estimated at 0.6%-—statistics give little solace to the 350,000+ Britons for whom gambling has become a serious problem. As with any illness or disorder, identifying the warning signs early is the most effective way of preventing its advance.
Common symptoms that may signal the onset of a gambling addiction include preoccupation with or a constant fixation on gambling, wagering more often and in greater amounts, betting down to the last penny available, and an inability to stop and walk away. Others are chasing after losses in an attempt to win them back, gambling on credit or using funds meant to pay bills and living expenses, lying to family and friends about gambling, and deteriorating relationships.
In the United Kingdom, the organisation known as GamCare is the leading provider of information, advice, support, and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. Its counterpart in the United States is the National Council on Problem Gambling. Both of these groups take a non-judgmental approach to addiction and have hotlines to help anyone concerned about stopping a gambling disorder. Online resources are available, too.
Of course, the first step in breaking the addiction is to acknowledge the problem. Toward that end, several groups have developed lists of questions that can be used for self-analysis. The following one is based upon the interview process conducted by a group called Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.).
- Have you ever lost time from work or school due to gambling?
- Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
- Has gambling affected your reputation?
- Have you ever had feelings of remorse after gambling?
- Have you ever gambled to get money for paying debts or to solve financial difficulties?
- Has gambling caused a reduction in your ambition or efficiency?
- After losing have you felt you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses?
- After winning, have you had a strong urge to return and win more?
- Have you often gambled until all of you money was gone?
- Have you ever borrowed money or sold anything to finance your gambling?
- Have you found yourself reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenses?
- Has gambling made you careless of your own welfare or that of your family?
- Have you ever gambled longer than you had planned?
- Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
- Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
- Has gambling caused you to have difficulty in sleeping?
- Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
- Have you ever had an urge to celebrate any good fortune by gambling?
- Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
- Do you think you have a gambling problem?
According to G.A., most compulsive gamblers will answer seven or more of these questions in the affirmative. That does not mean recreational gamblers do not experience many of these situations. The list is simply a tool in beginning to understand the powerful influence that gambling can have on one’s life.
Anyone who answers the last question “yes” may wish to take the next step and seek help. GamCare, for example, offers an array of support services, including online counselling free of charge and face-to-face counselling in many parts of the U.K. Depending on the level of treatment required, other options may be recommended, such as group therapy, inpatient treatment programs, psychotherapy, and hypnosis. What’s most important to know is that help is there for anyone who seeks it.