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.).

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.

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