Gambling Addiction: Are You Gambling Your Life Away?
Gambling addiction is often overlooked as a serious addiction.
If you or someone you love is affected by gambling addiction, you will know it is every bit as damaging as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Gambling addiction, also known as pathological gambling and problem gambling, commonly presents as a dual diagnosis disorder as well as a stand alone addiction. It has an exceptionally high mortality rate and treatment options can be limited.
Public Health England estimates that 0.5% of the population would be considered problem gamblers. Whilst the US estimates that 0.9% of the population would meet the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling.
In recent years, gambling addiction has become a growing concern on a global level. The advancements in smart phone technology and computers, has made waging money easier than ever.
Thankfully, gambling disorders are treatable. There is also much more awareness being raised around the problem.
Here we look at the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction and what to do if you think you might have a problem.
Forms of gambling addiction
Many people don't even realise that they have a problem with gambling as it can take on so many different forms.
Anything that involves a risk where a person stands to gain or lose can be considered a gamble.
Whilst the majority of people are able to gamble within self-imposed limitations, a minority are unable to stick to any limits. This results in them losing more than they can afford. It also has a negative impact on other areas of their life.
Forms of gambling include:
- Lottery and scratch cards
- Fruit machines and slot machines
- Betting shop activities, i.e horse racing, dog racing, football and other sports activities
- Card games involving stakes such as poker
- Dice games involving stakes
Signs of gambling addiction
Just like any addiction or disorder, there is a criteria for diagnosing a gambling addiction.
Gambling addiction can affect both men and women and is medically viewed as a complex brain disorder. To someone who doesn't suffer, they can easily mistake a problem gambler for being ‘weak willed’. This is far from the truth. As a serious psychiatric condition, a person with a gambling addiction will need the right help and support to recover.
No one chooses to have an addiction, just as no one chooses to be depressed, anxious or suffer from heart disease.
The criteria for gambling addiction is set out within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, edition DSM-5. This manual is used by health professionals around the world to diagnose psychiatric conditions and determine their severity.
The criteria for diagnosing gambling addiction in the DSM-5:
- A preoccupation with gambling - Obsessing about or planning the next gamble
- Tolerance - An increasing need to take bigger risks with gambling in order to feel the gamblers ‘high’
- Progression - Taking bigger risks with money, gambling more frequently & suffering more serious consequences
- Relapse - Suffering repeated relapses when attempting to quit gambling for good
- Continuation despite negative gambling consequences - Suffering consequences to health, occupation, personal relationships, finances and social life. Despite these consequences becoming more and more serious, a person with a gambling addiction will not be able to stop
- Loss of control - Unable to reduce or moderate gambling. Trying different methods of moderating or stopping but not being able to control, where, when and the amount of time spent on gambling
- Dishonesty and secrecy - Lying about the amounts gambled, attempting to cover up losses and consequences. Concealing evidence of gambling.
- Craving - When unable to gamble, experiencing overwhelming urges to gamble
- Dependence and withdrawal - When unable to gamble someone with a gambling addiction will feel restless, irritable, depressed and discontent. They will also experiencing cravings to gamble.
- Chasing losses - A person addicted to gambling will try to make up for losses by taking even bigger risks
- Using gambling as a form of escape - Whether it is escaping the drudgery of daily life, circumstances at home, or simply trying to escape the fear around consequences and emotions, a pathological gambler will turn to gambling.
A gambling disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. The more signs of a gambling addiction a person has, the more severe their condition is considered.
The history of gambling addiction and how medical terminology has changed our perception
Gambling addiction has only recently been recognised by the medical world as an addictive disorder.
Problem gambling was first recognised as a psychiatric disorder in 1980, under the term ‘pathological gambling’ in the 3rd edition of the DSM . At the time, the disorder was listed as an impulse control disorder, along side other impulse disorders such as pyromania, conduct disorder and kleptomania.
However, as understanding grew amongst healthcare professionals and neuroscientists, more similarities were drawn with substance use disorders. Comparisons were also drawn with the criteria for diagnosing alcohol and drug addiction.
In 2013 pathological gambling was renamed ‘gambling disorder’. Subsequently, it was moved to the Addictive Disorders category in the DSM, 5th edition. Gambling disorder now holds the same diagnostic criteria as substance addictions.
The reclassification of gambling disorder has since been pivotal in terms of treatment. Gambling addiction has been found to respond to the same evidence-based treatments used for treating substance addictions and other behavioural addictions.
MRI scans show similar brain activity in gambling addicts as drug addicts
MRI scans and neurochemistry have found that gambling activates the same areas of the brain in the reward system as drugs and alcohol.
Scans further show that the anticipation of the reward versus the reward outcome is also very similar in addicted gamblers and those addicted to substances.
Anticipation is something that is often overlooked in any addiction. However, isn't that part of the excitement, the planning and the anticipation of the ‘high’?
In someone with an addiction, brain chemistry starts to change before a substance has been consumed or a bet has been placed. These changes happen as soon as the decision to use or gamble has been made.
The brain's chemistry then undergoes further changes, increasing in excitement and anticipation as a gamble is placed.
Furthermore, brain imaging shows that a ‘near win’ produces nearly the same amount of excitement in a gambling addict's brain as an actual win.
1 in 5 problem gamblers contemplate suicide
Research commissioned by the Gambling Commission shows that 1 in 5 of people with a gambling problem has contemplated suicide in the past year. The study also shows that 5% of problem gamblers have actually acted on this and attempted suicide.
Moreover, it was found that problem gamblers are much more likely to think about suicide and self-harm. They are also more likely to attempt suicide than non-problem gamblers.
This just goes to show how trapped and depressed a person feels when suffering from an addiction to gambling.
Suffering from a gambling addiction can put a person in severe financial debt. So much so, that they cannot see a way out. The shame and remorse that they feel, can further prevent them from asking for help.
Consequences and signs of gambling addiction can include:
- Severe financial debt
- Criminal activity in order to try and recoup losses
- Credit rating was affected negatively. (This has wider and long-lasting implications)
- Job loss due to reduced productivity and poor mental health
- Suffering severe depression
- Acute fear and anxiety of being ‘found out’
- Relationship and marital break ups
- Owing money to family and friends
- Withdrawing socially
- Suffering from high amounts of mental stress
- Suicidal ideation and attempts
- Feeling hopeless
- Physical health affected by stress levels
- Losing the trust of loved ones
- Feeling overwhelmed and trapped
Now for the good news
If you're reading this article, there's a good chance that you or someone you know has a problem with gambling. Hopefully, this article will have given you at least some understanding of what a gambling addiction is.
Gambling addiction needs to be treated with the same seriousness as a substance addiction. Okay, so the consequences may look slightly different, but the defining characteristics are scarily similar.
Get help for gambling addiction now
Recoverlution is partnered with Anonymind, who provide completely free treatment to anyone struggling with a gambling addiction, as well as any family members that may be affected.
Recovering from any addiction is challenging, yet we know it is possible. All of us at Recoverlution are in either in recovery ourselves or have been affected by someone else’s addiction.
Here, you can create a free support group within our platform and use as many of the recovery tools available as you wish. You can also join our Wellness hub for direct access to our accredited therapists. Our therapists specialise in delivering techniques that increase well-being and encourage a healthy recovery from addiction.
- Gambling-related harms evidence review: summary. Updated 30 September 2021 - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gambling-related-harms-evidence-review/gambling-related-harms-evidence-review-summary
- Pathological and Problem Gamblers in the United States - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230631/
- Kessler RC, Hwang I, LaBrie R, et al. DSM-IV pathological gambling in the National Comorbidity SurveyReplication. Psychol Med. Sep 2008;38(9):1351-1360 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18257941/
- DSM-5 Gambling Disorder: Prevalence and Characteristics in a Substance Use Disorder Sample - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019046/
- Gambling Addiction and the Brain - https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/addiction/2015/gambling-addiction-and-the-brain
- Aberrant neural signatures of decision-making: Pathological gamblers display cortico-striatal hypersensitivity to extreme gambles - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811916000070
- Compulsive Gamblers. (2022, August 16). In Wikipedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsive_Gamblers