October 22, 2014

Addicted to the win

By Liz Karter

What do you think gambling addiction is all about?

Money? Risk?

Why would anyone throw their money away when they are already in debt? Don’t they know the low odds of winning?

Like all addicts, compulsive gamblers are not governed by logic or reason. Gambling addiction is not all about the money. Although the idea of ‘free money’ might draw someone to gabling initially, what hooks a person into addiction is how he feels when he gambles. Those hooked by the excitement of gambling describe feeling a thrilling high from winning that they seek again and again. It is the feeling that becomes addictive, not just winning money.

Of course, because gambling is taking the risk of win or lose, sooner or later they will lose. By comparison to the exhilarating high of a win, a loss is experienced as crashing low, causing feelings of depression. Addicts crave another win to lift to their now depressive mood.

Repeating this cycle again and again eventually does cause devastating financial problems. Money is now merely a means of buying the fix they are craving every bit as much as the as drug addict or alcoholic would crave their substance. In the grip of gambling addiction many are reduced to gambling at all costs and will beg, steal or borrow to stay in action.

So, gambling addiction is all about addiction to a high from a win?

For some yes, for others no.

Many women with gambling addiction are not addicted to the high from a win. They are not risk takers but aim to take control of their thoughts and feelings. The soothing effect of staring at the slot machine or the computer screen as they gamble via the internet provides escapism.

We can all relate to how spending time online it is all so easy to lose track of time, and in the same way it is all so easy to lose track of how much money is spent. With no cash to handle, all transactions seem like “just pressing numbers” as one patient described to me. That is how it felt until all her cards were declined; she had reached the max without even knowing she was anywhere near it.

Thatis when gambling addiction becomes all about the money. Desperately in debt, with unpaid bills and no food in the cupboards clinging onto the unrealistic hope that what made the mess might just help to clear it up, addicts are stuck in a cycle of loss chasing. They are obsessed with money and often dig themselves into a deeper and deeper trap.

Addicted to the high or addicted to the escapism, each path leads to the same destination; devastating debt, damaged relationships and self- esteem at rock bottom.

Signs of gambling addiction:

·         Spending unaffordable amounts of time and money gambling

·         Losing interest in previously enjoyable relationships and activities; nothing feels as good as gambling

·         Becoming secretive about time and money spent

·         Hiding gambling from others

·         Feeling irritable if unable to gamble; mood swings


What are the first steps to positive change?

–          Do not wait until you reach a rock bottom.

–          Talk to someone you trust and tell them you want to stop gambling. It is normal that one part of you will want to keep gambling, and another part want to stop. Getting support strengthens the part of you that wants to stop.

–          Restrict your access to money for a few weeks. Maybe someone could help you manage your finances.

–          Deal with debt. Worrying about money feeds gambling cravings.

If after 4 weeks away from gambling you still struggle with cravings to gamble seek professional support. There are reasons gambling gets out of control and it may be you need help to mange stress or depression and make positive life changes. Remember gambling is a real addiction, but recovery and a rewarding life really is possible.

For more information on gambling addiction, or to seek help, visit that National Council on Problem Gambling (LINK: http://www.ncpgambling.org/)

Liz Karter is a therapist in addiction, specializing in gambling and women. Practicing since 2001 she has helped hundreds of men and women successfully move beyond addiction to experience rewarding lives. Liz is author of the books 'Women and Problem Gambling' and 'Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling 'and frequently writes for addiction publications.


Other articles you might be interested in…

Don’t trade in one addiction for another

Gambling addicts release fewer endorphins than healthy individuals 

The house always wins 

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