The Great Gamble Women are Taking with their Lives
It isn’t only men who can become addicted to gambling. This may sound obvious, but society generally paints a picture that men are the ones who struggle with problem gambling. Although women gamble too, they’re often overlooked as problem gamblers as it is prominently men associated with betting shops and poker tables.
However, the rates of female gamblers appear to be on the rise. A recent study found that up to 1 million women in the UK are at risk of harm from gambling. Furthermore, the number of children who now gamble has also drastically increased since the Covid pandemic.
The increase in numbers may either be because women are, in fact, beginning to gamble at higher rates. Some researchers believe that the rates of female gamblers have increased due to the ease with which women can assess games and apps on their smartphones.
On the other end, rates may be going up because of the increasing availability of online support resources, allowing women to feel safer in seeking help. These support resources help decrease the stigma and shame that women with problem gambling often feel.
This article takes a deeper look at women and gambling. If you think you may be struggling with problem gambling, read on to learn more about the various ways you can get help.
Differences between when women gamble and when men gamble
When it comes to problem gambling, men and women appear to share more similarities than differences. However, there are certain differences when it comes to habits and motivations when women gamble.
According to a survey conducted by the Gambling Commission, nearly half of the women, 42%, had engaged in gambling in the four weeks prior to the survey. This is compared with 53% of men in the same time frame.
Women generally appear to have different preferences than men do when it comes to gambling. The main forms of gambling that women in this particular survey reported engaging in were scratchcards, lotteries, and bingo. Additional research has shown that women are more likely to play slot machines and lotteries. (A caveat to this is millennials – studies show that both millennial men and women appear to find slot machines boring.)
Research indicates that men typically engage in games like poker, blackjack, and video poker. The theory is that men prefer games requiring strategy and skill, while women prefer games of chance. However, it is worth mentioning that most of the research conducted in this field over the decades has been facilitated by men.
Another theory is that men prefer games of strategy in order to display their competence to others, whereas when women gamble, they do not have the intention of displaying their skills to others.
How do men and women react after losses?
Another interesting difference in how men and women relate to gambling is found in how they handle losing. Studies show that when men lose, they appear to express their pain through anger and frustration. Men are more likely to display their anger in ways such as hitting the table or machine or being rude to casino workers.
This same study indicated that when women lose, they display their pain through sadness. This was demonstrated through crying or body language which is generally associated with depression.
These differences in the reaction shouldn’t be too surprising, as men and women have been societally conditioned to express pain in different ways. Due to this conditioning, it has become more “acceptable” for men to display anger and for women to display sadness, rather than vice versa.
What causes women to gamble?
When women or men begin gambling, it typically begins as a harmless activity. However, it may not take long for this occasional pastime to spiral into problem gambling.
According to the Gambling Commission, women aged 35-54 are most likely to gamble (32%). When it comes to the younger and older age brackets, there appears to be slightly decreased engagement in gambling.
A large gambling study conducted in Australia showed that loneliness and boredom were two major contributors to gambling in women. Those who reported higher levels of loneliness were at a higher risk of problem gambling. Likewise, those who were bored, even while playing, were also at higher risk.
As with any other addiction, there are several factors that can contribute to the development of the problem.
Research shows that female problem gamblers report significantly higher rates of a history of childhood abuse, psychological distress, and gambling as a form of avoidant and emotion-based coping than their male counterparts.
Some of the risk factors for developing gambling addiction are:
- Adverse childhood experiences
- Environmental factors
- Genetic predisposition
- Mental health issues, including depression or anxiety
- Existing substance use issues
Additionally, when women gamble after experiencing significant changes in their life, such as retiring from work or getting divorced, it may prompt a shift from social gambling to problem gambling.
Research indicates that women find pleasure more in playing rather than just the winning aspect of gambling. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately 95% of women who gamble are “escape” gamblers. They find solace in gambling and use it as a release from the demand of others and external stressors.
Women may turn to gamble in an effort to numb their feelings, find alone time, forget their problems, and close down the outside world. It becomes a means of self-soothing that can very quickly become problematic.
What are the consequences of problem gambling?
Although women generally appear to start gambling later in life, they develop issues with gambling more quickly, causing issues in many areas of their lives.
Many people believe that those who struggle with problem gambling may only face financial loss, but the ripple effects of problem gambling extend beyond this.
The research on the consequences of when women gambling specifically is limited. However, problem gambling can lead to emotional distress, and evoke feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. It can perpetuate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It can lead to debt, financial issues, and even legal issues.
Problem gambling can also cause devastating effects on relationships with other people.
Below are some additional consequences of problem gambling:
- Chronic stress, which could lead to physical health issues such as heart disease and hypertension
- Sleep deprivation, which could lead to cognitive decline, unstable moods, and a weakened immune system
- An abnormal response to acute stress
- Developing problems with substance use, such as increased alcohol consumption
- Altered eating patterns
- Deficits in attention span
- Feelings of hopelessness and desperation
- Suicidal ideation
It’s evident that problem gambling seeps into all aspects of life. So, why wouldn’t someone want to enter treatment, even after acknowledging they may be dealing with problem gambling?
Barriers women face to engaging in treatment
If you think you may be struggling with problem gambling, know that you’re not alone. Many women struggle with problem gambling, and many women are able to find ways of healing that work for them.
It’s also important to note that seeking treatment is difficult for anyone. It takes a great deal of vulnerability, as well as courage, to look within yourself and know that something needs to change.
There are unique barriers you may be facing as a woman in particular if you struggle with problem gambling.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, below are some of the barriers women face that inhibit them from engaging in treatment for gambling:
- When women gamble, it’s generally less accepted by society than men who gamble, as women are portrayed as being “nurturing mothers” or “responsible homemakers”
- Women face shame due to societal gender roles and caregiver expectations
- Shame is also experienced in breaching social and personal values, neglecting children or families, or withdrawing from friends
- Women experience fear of judgment and exposure
- A need to be autonomous prompts women to rely on themselves when trying to manage problems
- Women are less likely to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings due to many reasons, including fear of being hit on, difficulty in sharing a history of abuse, or fear of not being taken seriously if engaging in “non-skilled” gambling
It’s important to know that experiencing difficult feelings, such as guilt or fear, is normal for anyone entering treatment. However, letting any of these difficult feelings keep you from going to treatment and getting your life back will only keep you right where you are. You’re fully capable of experiencing the recovery you deserve, and fortunately, there are many ways to get help.
How to get help for problem gambling
Below are a few ways to get help for problem gambling:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Research shows that psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, has significant results in treating gambling disorders. CBT is also used in treating substance use disorders and helps you become aware of the unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs you’ve developed that caused and perpetuated the unwanted behaviour of gambling. Then, CBT helps you change these thoughts into new, supportive ones that help you foster healthy behaviours, instead.
Additionally, engaging in one-on-one therapy gives you a private, safe space where you can express what you’re going through in a judgment-free zone. Through therapy, you can work through any unprocessed traumas or difficult experiences that are still haunting you. Even if they are at a subconscious level.
Peer Support Groups or Group Therapy
When you’re struggling with problem gambling, you might feel incredibly isolated in your struggles. You may feel like no one understands what you’re going through. You may be holding deep feelings of guilt, shame, and self-judgment. The truth is, a lot of women do know what you’re going through. A lot of women have felt exactly what you’re feeling, and know how to move through those difficult feelings in a healthy way.
Finding a peer support group or engaging in group therapy can help you feel so much less isolated in your struggles, especially if you find a gambling support group specifically for women. You can learn from women who are well into their recovery, and connect with women who may be brand new to recovery, just like you may be. Finding community is paramount to a healthy recovery, so try your best to engage with others, even if it feels scary at first.
Inpatient treatment is a form of treatment that allows you to dedicate 100% of your energy and efforts solely towards your recovery. During inpatient treatment, you will live at a rehab facility for a designated amount of time. This ranges from approximately one month up to three months. With inpatient treatment, you’ll receive round-the-clock care and have a team of specialists to support you. You’ll engage in one-on-one sessions as well as group sessions. Many inpatient facilities also offer alternative or holistic forms of treatment as well.
In today’s day and age, the internet offers so many resources and tools for supporting recovery. One of those resources is Be Gamble Aware. Be Gamble Aware is run and funded by the independent charity Gamble Aware, and focuses on helping people minimise the harm brought on by problem gambling. Be Gamble Aware is also running a women’s campaign, with a special focus on women who struggle with problem gambling. Their website offers many forms of support, including phone and chat support. They offer help to those who want to get their gambling under control. They also help those who think they have problem gambling and those with loved ones who are struggling.
Another great resource is Anonymind. Anonymind and its website offer many tools and resources for those with problem gambling. They offer real-time services 24/7. Anyone can call one of their trained advisors for help or support. In addition to their online services and tools, Anonymind offers in-person treatment services as well.
Additionally, you’ll find many resources here at Recoverlution including our HubofHope. Whether you’re looking to find community and engage with others who can relate with you, or you need access to wellness resources such as yoga, meditation, or breath work, Recoverlution offers you a space where you can feel safe to be yourself, express your struggles, find community, and have somewhere to turn to as you embark on your journey through recovery.
Author - Thurga
- Understanding women's experiences of gambling -https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/blog/post/understanding-womens-experiences-of-gambling
- Comparative Analysis of Potential Risk Factors for at-Risk Gambling, Problem Gambling and Gambling Disorder among Current Gamblers—Results of the Austrian Representative Survey 2015 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5735080/
- Gender Differences in the Presentation of Observable Risk Indicators of Problem Gambling - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10899-017-9691-5
- Women and Gambling - https://www.onlineunitedstatescasinos.com/gambling-articles/women-and-gambling/
- Women and gambling-related harm: a narrative literature review and implications for research, policy, and practice - https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-019-0284-8
- The effects of gambling - https://gamblershelp.com.au/learn-about-gambling/effects-of-gambling/
- The Biopsychosocial Consequences of Pathological Gambling - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004711/
- FEMALE GAMBLERS FACT SHEET - http://www.ncpgambling.org/files/WOMEN_GAMBLERS_FACTS.pdf
- An overview of gambling disorder: from treatment approaches to risk factors - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5893944/
- Up to 1 million women in UK at risk of harm from gambling, study finds - https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/31/1-million-uk-women-risk-harm-gambling-study
- Be Gamble Aware https://www.begambleaware.org/advice-tools-support
- Anonymind: https://anonymind.com