Gambling: innocent fun or debilitating addiction?

There was a time when gambling conjured up seedy smoke-filled bookies or dark basement clubs with poker tables and roulette wheels.   

This is no longer the case.

Gambling….in its many guises….are available to the masses.

You can’t watch a sporting event on the TV now without being bombarded by odds, combinations and hotlines that mean you can lay a bet in 5 seconds flat.

The desire to risk take is what defines the addiction.

Las Vegas is one of the biggest tourist spots on the planet, a town driven by casinos and slot machines.  

There appears to be a lottery for every day of the week.

Risky business ventures may appear necessary but in reality can become a manifestation of  a gambling habit.

To most this is just innocent fun but for others the consequences of that first bet can be catastrophic.

When does a gambling habit become more of an addiction?

Most of us have taken a flutter on the Grand National, Kentucky Derby or bought a lottery ticket.  

We can take it or leave it. It can, however, develop into an obsession to risk-taking.

What differentiates a harmless recreation into a pathological and destructive habit?

There are some tell tale signs to look for:

  1. As with most addictions, there is the need to keep it secret. If you are sneaking off behind your families back to place a bet then you may need to be concerned.
  2. Are you constantly chasing the last win…or the last loss? As with most addictions, there is a time when the ability to choose leaves us. Are you betting despite negative consequences? Are you betting more than you can afford? Are you constantly thinking about the next one?
  3. Are you losing focus on relationships, work and leisure in favour of gambling? Is your mood dictated by whether you have won or lost?
  4. Are you compromising yourself to maintain your habit? Are you lying to friends or family? Are you stealing money to fund it? Do you commit fraud to maintain your risk-taking?
  5. As with most addictions, there is a need for denial. There seems an inbuilt ability in most addicts to manufacture a belief that they are in control rather than the other way round. It may be worth writing down what you are willing to do (or have already done) to maintain the habit and ask yourself ‘Am I in control?’.

It’s not doing me any harm

If I can afford it why is it an addiction?  After all it isn’t doing me any harm.

The reality is that the consequences of such an addiction can be much more far-reaching. Due to the diverse manifestations of such an addiction they can be also be varied.

  1. Physically You may become unable to sleep, have weight fluctuations, loose appetite or pale skin
  2. Emotionally you become pre occupied and this can lead to depression and anxiety.
  3. Morally you may find yourself doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. You may lose control of that moral compass around the addiction.
  4. Behaviourally you may be restless and irritable. Moods may fluctuate vastly.
  5. Relationships will suffer…..Nothing is more important than your addiction.
  6. It is not uncommon for secondary addictions to appear.

How do I get help?

As with any addiction it is important to believe there is a way out….A symptom of such an impulse control disorder( as gambling is) is a feeling of hopelessness, loneliness and self pity…..

No one will understand?

I must be mad?

What is wrong with me?

These are all questions we ask ourselves. It is only when we reveal our behaviours that we realise we are not alone.

In understanding this hope is found and the healing begins.

There are many treatments available

  1. Self-help groups
    Talking to others who understand can be a major step forward. There are self-help groups such as Gamblers anonymous that can help.
  2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
    This can provide a practical way of addressing the issue by challenging thought patterns and behaviours and providing a new set of ‘coping mechanisms’.
  3. Residential inpatient treatment
    Intensive treatment in reputable centres such as Camino Recovery. This is particularly successful in acute cases.
  4. Family Therapy
    Camino has a five-day program that addresses the causes and effects of a Gambling addiction on the family. Addiction impacts the sufferer and those around them. The healing process is greatly enhanced by a family component to the treatment.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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