Identifying Signs of Gambling Addiction
Recognizing a gambling addiction is not as easy as spotting substance abuse, though they do have their similarities. One thing they have in common is that they are both very real addictions.
Because addiction is a disease, gambling and substance abuse are both considered to be chronic illnesses. That said, both gambling and substance addictions should be treated in similar fashions, as the chronic illnesses that they are.
When you suspect someone has a drug addiction, there are physical changes that can be easy to spot. For example, you may be able to identify needle marks, dilated pupils, a red runny nose or glassy, bloodshot eyes. Those under the influence may also have sudden changes in personality.
You may notice an increased sense of confidence, aggression, or loud and obnoxious behavior. At times, even the opposite may be true. They may seem more withdrawn, less coordinated, or even paranoid.
While some of the behavioral characteristics may coincide, a gambling addiction can be harder to pinpoint. Being under the influence generally offers a number of fairly obvious signs just by physical appearance and demeanor. Gambling isn’t typically as obvious. Often masked by genuine excitement or love for healthy competition, gambling addiction can completely ruin lives.
A gambling addiction refers to when a person is repetitively engaging in the act of gambling regardless of the amount of distress it causes. Those that suffer from compulsive gambling display the uncontrollable urge to continue to engage in the act of gambling regardless of the effect it will have on their wellbeing.
Though it sounds simple enough, it is a much bigger beast to overcome than it appears. “Just quitting” is not an option.
When a person suffers from an addiction to gambling, there is one very important thing to note. As they are engaging in the act, it is unlikely that they are thinking of anything except the rush that it gives them. People and things that are significant in their lives fade into the background. This leaves only the game to be important.
While playing, they are willing to wager anything of value in order to be able to continue. The mentality is that the game must go on, no matter what.
Just like with any addiction, the brain is wired to crave the reward. As is with drugs or alcohol, gambling addicts seek a feeling of euphoria brought upon by engaging in the act. Once the action has begun, the reward area of the brain is engaged, and the illusion of joy comes over them.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that a gambling addict will have to win anything to crave it. In fact, it is more typical to find that they have lost all that they have come with and more. However, they will continue with these actions whether or not they even desire to win it back. The desire is to play; playing is the addiction.
The compulsive nature of a gambling addiction even leads to more stress when they have exhausted all available options to continue. Yet, regardless of the loss or even devastation their actions have led to, the urge to continue will remain.
Some people have the self-control to set a boundary for the amount of money they are willing to spend gambling. They are able to go out and play every once in a while, yet lack the craving that belongs to the addict. Those that do not suffer from addiction know when it is time to stop and are able to do so.
This means that no everyone that engages in gambling has an addiction to it. However, just like with drugs or alcohol, repeating the experience over and over can surely develop into one.
Taking into consideration that the name of the game is to bet one thing to gain another, the difference is knowing when to stop. A person with a gambling addiction usually does not know when enough is enough. However, sometimes they do but choose not to call it quits regardless. This is when it can become dangerous.
The blind desire behind this type of addiction does not usually take into consideration the difference between winning and losing. The truth of the matter is that; it doesn’t matter. It only matters that they are still able to play.
When a person has a gambling problem, you may notice their behaviors toward monetary items seem reckless.
While there could be other reasons behind these behaviors, more often than not, it is the start of gambling addiction. Unfortunately, it is the people closest to the addict that suffer the most, as this financial hardship can be devastating.
Be sure to stay aware of suspicious behavior and know that rehab treatment is available for those suffering from a gambling addiction.
In many cases, you won’t even know you need to be looking for signs of gambling addiction. An experienced gambling addict might know how to conceal the signs, or they can be very subtle. This is an addiction that you can be easily blindsided by. Worst of all, often by the time it’s bad enough that you’ve become aware, it has already caused devastation.
Like most addictions, once a gambling addiction has developed, it can and will destroy your relationships, your career, and your life. The difference between most addictions and this insidious one is that a compulsive gambler can be extremely hard to recognize unless you’re paying close attention.
They offer few, if any, outward signs, as they have had time to learn how to conceal their addiction. Unlike alcoholics, they won’t always come home smelling like booze with red eyes, slurring their speech, and stumbling through the door. They don’t often have to call into work because they’re too hungover or high to show up. There’s no detectable smell of a casino on their breath or a hospital bill from an overdose.
If you or someone you love is addicted to gambling, there are a few things that can clear up the uncertainty. Be on the lookout for the following signs.
This is a big part of an addicted gambler’s life. Suddenly it seems they’re lying to everyone about everything. Where they’ve been, why they’re late or what they need ‘extra’ money for. Why don’t they have the money for obligations like bills, mortgage, car payment, etc.? The sad thing is, a gambler lies to themselves far more than they do anyone else. The biggest lie is trying to convince themselves that they are not addicted to gambling either.
Gambling addiction creates a problem for the pathological gambler, in that it requires more and more money to keep it going. Much like an addict, requiring larger quantities of drugs to attain the same “high,” compulsive gamblers also need more money. Gambling addicts require more than just money to fuel the addiction. They also need cash to pay back debts incurred from the frequent, but certain, losses.
Hand in hand with the need for more money, gambling addicts feel the need to bet more often. They will also strive to increase the amounts, in order to feel the same adrenaline rush as before.
Eventually, it will get to the point where their gambling is completely out of their control. Their entire life begins to revolve around it. Always taking and thinking about their last gambling episode, and planning for the next time they can go play. Even when they finally get to the point they know they should stop, they’re unable to. It becomes impossible to resist the urge to gamble every chance they get.
Finally, the gambling addict doesn’t seem to care about anything else except gambling. The ever-present hope of “winning it all” drives them in a way that excludes everything and everyone in their life. They’re typically deeply in debt at this point, and families and careers are at risk.
Take a second to evaluate your behaviors or feelings towards gambling. Are you suffering from a gambling addiction and were never aware of how it affected you? Has someone close to you been acting differently lately, spending more and more time away at the arcade or casino?
Unfortunately, it isn’t usually until the final stage that it becomes obvious to those around that they are an addict. When we are close to someone, we often overlook some of these behaviors as someone just having a good time.
For the gambling addict, this is a very lonely road. A road often filled with dangers and threats that they’d rather keep to themselves. The reality is, whether or not they’ll admit it, they are an addict, and they need help.
An addiction, of any kind, is still a disease, and a smart disease at that. The most unfortunate part about it is often, the brain’s reward center can’t tell one addiction from another. This is when gambling and substance abuse meet face to face.
Whether a person is seeking the thrill of gambling or the high of the drug, there is a craving that must be met. While both addictions can occur one without the other, it’s important to consider that they can occur together as well. When one or more psychological or behavioral illness is present at the same time, this is known as dual diagnosis.
Those that spend an increased amount of time in a casino can find themselves overindulging on alcohol during that time. Or others that show up to poker tournaments could find enjoying the experience much more using drugs that stimulate alertness. Some might even turn to substances like prescription drugs to curb the craving while being unable to gamble. Without even realizing it, they have developed a substance abuse problem, and now have to face more than one addiction.
The good news is, there is a way out. Help for addiction is available.
It is not so much the quitting part of a gambling addiction that is a challenge. The hard part is choosing not to gamble moving forward. Once in recovery from this addiction, an addict will surely notice that many things around them are now triggers. Things like going to the gas station to fill up and seeing the Powerball machine may cause a craving. Or even turning on the television and catching a glimpse of the latest playoff scores may inspire the urge.
When in recovery, it must be a daily practice to refrain from the habits that have led to their gambling addiction. This is where many addicts have the most difficulty. However, once you begin to replace unhealthy behaviors with positivity and self-control, rejecting your triggers will become more natural.
While some of these actions may be difficult at first, soon they will just become healthy new habits. Rehabilitation and therapy are all about removing bad habits and replacing them with more fulfilling and worthy ones.
Managing the disease of addiction is an ongoing journey no matter what kind of addiction you suffer from. And for a while it may seem like an uphill battle, remember that you never have to go it alone. Although managing gambling addiction can often be challenging, many have achieved recovery during rehabilitation and treatment therapy.
As with any addiction, it’s not an easy road back to what is considered normal, but it does exist. There are support networks available to help even the most addicted gambler that is ready to make a change. Don’t spend another day wondering what tomorrow could be like without addiction holding you back.
Help is always available for those that choose to take it. Find out more information about treatment programs available for addiction. Rehab can show you new ways to take back control and have a healthy and meaningful future. Now, that is a chance worth betting your life on.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.