The essential feature of problem gambling is a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling, a progression in gambling frequency and amounts wagered, and preoccupation with gambling and obtaining money to gamble.
- Lost money
- Lost property and possessions
- Accumulated debt
- Lack of others’ trust and support
- Damaged relationships
- Loss of Career and Family
- Financial Ruin
- Legal Problems
- Increased stress and sleep problems
- Elevated health issues
Unlike other addictions, problem gambling can be difficult to spot. IF you suspect that someone is struggling with a gambling problem, you may want to compare their behavior with the following common warning signs of problem gambling. This is not an all-inclusive list.
- Increase in unpaid bills or the suspected gambler suddenly wants to take over paying the bills
- The individual is secretive about money or lying about how money is spent
- He or she is always short of money, despite adequate income
- Money is pulled from savings, investment, or retirement accounts for no apparent reason
- Needed household items are being sold or pawned for cash.
- Pressuring others for money as financial problems arise
- Escaping to other excesses (alcohol, drugs, sleep, etc.)
- Personality changes, such as increased irritability and withdrawal
- Defensiveness and denial when questioned about gambling, shortage of money and unpaid bills.
- Pre-existing mental health problems, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia, depression and anxiety
How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S.?People with a gambling problem can’t seem to quit even though they want to - and even when they’re experiencing significant, negative consequences. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, three to four percent of the adult population in the U.S. struggle with varying degrees of problem gambling
What kind of people become problem gamblers?Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. Even people with a long history of responsible behavior can develop a gambling problem. When an individual is gambling problematically, that person cannot control their gambling and will often fail to meet their responsibilities. When gambling behavior interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace, a serious problem exists.
Can you be a problem gambler if you don’t gamble every day?The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. WHat is more important are the consequences gambling has on the gambler’s life.
Can you be a problem gambler if you only buy lottery tickets?Lotteries, scratch-off cards and bingo, though they may help raise money for charities or education, are forms of gambling and can become problematic if they cause damage to a person’s life.
How much money do you have to lose before gambling becomes a problem?The amount of money lost does not necessarily determine when gambling becomes a problem. While financial problems are often observed, excessive gambling often impacts other aspects of a person’s life. If someone’s gambling conflicts with their priorities, there may be a problem. For example, too much time spent gambling means less time spent with family and friends, and may impact performance on the job.
Myth: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler.Fact: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
Myth: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.Fact: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
Myth: Having a gambling problem is just a case of being weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent.Fact: Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
Myth: Partners of problem gamblers often drive their loved ones to gamble.Fact: Problem gamblers often try to rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
Myth: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it.Fact: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling their gambling problems to continue.
A gambling addiction, like an addiction to alcohol and drugs, is a very real disease. Problem gambling can destroy lives, threaten family relationships and cause financial devastation. It’s not always well understood and is often kept hidden as a family secret. Thousands of people and families struggle with it daily.
There is treatment for problem gambling, and recovery is possible. There is hope and there is help. Once an assessment or evaluation has been completed, a formal diagnosis can be made and the appropriate kind of treatment recommended. People can, and do, recover from problem gambling to live normal lives. You don’t have to accomplish it alone.
For every problem gambler - and it’s estimated there are more than six to eight million in the U.S. - there are at least that many “affected others.” If you have a loved one with a gambling problem, you are likely experiencing many strong - and possibly conflicting - emotions. You could be trying to cover up their gambling while trying to keep them from gambling more. You might be angry at them, depressed about the debt they’ve run up and afraid they won’t stop. You may also be worried that the gambler will borrow or steal money or sell family assets. Finally, you may be feeling lonely, isolated or helpless.
Dealing with the consequences of problem gambling isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Through counseling you’ll find support to keep you or your loved one from placing bets, repair relationships with family, friends and coworkers, begin regaining control of finances and steer clear of other addictions.
- Seek the support of others with similar problems and attend a self-help group for families of problem gamblers
- Explain problem gambling to the children
- Recognize your partner’s good qualities
- Remain calm when speaking to your partner about their gambling and its consequences
- Let your partner know that you are seeking help for your own sake because of the way gambling affects you and the family
- Understand the need for treatment of problem gambling despite the time it may involve
- Take control of family finances; review bank and credit card statements
- Preach, lecture, or allow yourself to lose control of your anger
- Make threats or issue ultimatums unless you intend to carry them out
- Exclude the gambler from family life and activities
- Expect immediate recovery, or that all problems will be resolved when the gambling stops
- Bail out the gambler
- Cover-up or deny the existence of the problem to yourself, your family, or others
Do you have a gambling problem? Take the gambling quiz to to find out.
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Reference: Ferris, J., & Wynne, H. (2001). The Canadian problem gambling index: Final report. Submitted for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.