By Liz Karter
You are careful with money. You have self- control. You aren’t stupid, and you know the odds. So no way you could ever get addicted to gambling, right?
Not so fast. Here’s what you need to know about gambling addiction:
1.It’s not about the money. As strange as it may sound, for the gambling addict money is just a means of buying the fix that they crave. People get addicted to the feeling they get from the process of gambling. The feeling can be:
A high,from the anticipation of a win or the win itself. This is comes from fast moving gambling such as sports betting, horse racing or casino table games.
Zoning out, by switching off troubling thoughts and feelings. This comes from playing slot machines or from gambling online and becoming totally absorbed.
2. But finances do become important.Although the cause of gambling is not greed for money, a consequence of gambling addiction is obsession with money. This is because sooner or later, the gambler will lose unaffordable amounts of money and start chasing losses. At this stage, he or she will gamble at all costs and may lie, beg, steal or borrow money to gamble.
As the cycle continues, addicts can become obsessed with getting back the money they have lost. They are often desperately in debt and feel only way out is to hang on to the hope – however tiny – that another bet could be the big winner that turns back the clock on their financial mess.
3.The odds of winning do not matter. Rationally,the gambler understands she will never win back what is lost and that actually the odds are that gambling more will only dig her deeper into debt.
But by this stage, tight in the grip of gambling addiction, the gambling is emotionally driven. Overwhelmed by panic and irrational thinking, the odds of winning do not matter. All that matters is the tiny hope of a win and, even more importantly, the fix from gambling: creating another high or zone out in order to escape from the stress, depression and anxiety caused by colossal debts, unpaid bills and life spiralling faster into chaos.
4. It has wide-ranging repercussions.By now, preoccupation with gambling and getting money to gamble to stay afloat in a sea of unpaid bills has caused arguments in relationships. Family and friends are worried and frustrated by changes in the gambler, who has become secretive and withdrawn. Like other addicts, gamblers may have mood swings and tell lies about where time and money is being spent.
With a drug or alcohol addiction, there are obvious physical symptoms of what the problem might be. With gambling addiction, there is no alcohol on the breath, no dilated pupils. Those around the gambler are left guessing and scared by not understanding what is going on. For the gambler too, the world now feels frightening and beyond their control. Shame and fear of being judged and losing the trust of families, partners and employers keep the gambler hiding in his addiction.
5. It can affect anyone.It is vital to remember that it is not just people who lack self-control who become addicted to gambling. Anyone who has life problems that he can’t control is more likely to get out of control doing something that soothes the mind and feelings, including gambling.
This is especially if for people who feel lonely or unsupported at that time. Typical life crises like bereavement, divorce or losing a job could trigger addictive gambling. In fact, any life event that causes stress, depression or anxiety can lead to spending unaffordable amounts of both time and money trying to forget problems by buying a high, or escaping into a no- feeling zone. Although at the time it might feel like a price worth paying, the consequences outweigh the short-term relief.
Gambling: A case study
Heather was a forty-two year old nurse who loves her job. She lived alone after her divorce and was often too busy to see friends. A natural carer, she found it hard to ask for help from others when she needed it.
Heather was promoted at work, and found that in addition to her workload doubling, the people in her new team were difficult for her to get along with. She felt increasingly stressed at the end of each work day, and soon discovered that playing bingo online was a way of switching off. Working shifts meant she was often awake when the rest of the world was asleep, but here was a way of relaxing and chatting online to others that was available 24/7.
It wasn’t long before Heather was gambling after every late shift, sometimes twelve nights in a row. She spent more and more money on gambling and less time with friends. After late-night gambling sprees, she was too tired to concentrate at work. This caused her more stress, which led to more gambling, resulting and debt and anxiety. The only time she felt safe was when she hid away by gambling.
Working in treatment with me, Heather put strategies in place to limit her gambling. Withdrawal was hard, and at first she experienced strong gambling cravings. However, she learned to use therapy to express her feelings rather than suppress them by gambling, exchanging an unhealthy coping mechanism for a healthy one. This lowered her stress.
She took these new skills out into her life and now understands that in order to continue to care for others, it essential to allow others to care for her. If Heather ever plays bingo now, it is for fun, out at bingo halls and with her friends.
Recovery: the odds are in your favor.
Recovering from gambling addiction can be a relatively quick process. In fact,most people find that after four weeks gambling free they experience fewer cravings for gambling and have a much clearer mind and more stable emotions. Here’s how to get started:
· Face the fact that you are not in control of your gambling. This is the first step to taking back control of your life.
· Talk to a family member,friend or partner about your concerns. Tell them that you want to stop gambling. Many people do not understand what gambling is all about, so it is useful to help them understand how you feel. Literature can be a useful way of explaining to them that gambling is a very real addiction and that you cannot just stop overnight.
· Be accountable.Because gambling is easily hidden and easily accessible via the internet, it is helpful to be accountable to someone. Find a person you can trust to help you manage your money and keep hold of your credit cards for an agreed four-week period, taking away your ability to gamble.
· Take a step back.Socially responsible gambling companies offer cooling off periods, or self-exclusion. This means you can take some time out or exclude yourself from gambling at that venue or online site for a set period. If you gamble online it is possible to buy software to block your access to gambling sites.
· Keep busy.Remember, taking away your access to gambling will not take away cravings to gamble. That takes time. Distract yourself by catching up with friends, family and interests that you have neglected while gambling.
· Seek financial help.The stress of unmanaged debt increases gambling cravings.
Contact a professional.Counsellors and treatment can help you work out why your gambling got out of control. This is especially helpful if you are isolated or have additional problems such as stress, depression or anxiety.