Gambling Addiction – Discerning Fact from Fiction

Are you worried because you’ve started lying to cover gambling losses? Do you suspect a loved one has a problem with online gambling, but you’re not sure? There’s so much information out there about drug and alcohol addiction, but we often read or see little about addiction to gambling. As a result, there are plenty of myths and misperceptions that prevent a gambling addict from recognizing the problem and getting the help needed to be healthy again. Following are some of the most common myths about gambling addiction:

People can’t get addicted to gambling since it’s not a substance.

Most of us think of drugs or alcohol when we hear the term addiction. But people can also develop compulsive behaviors that give the brain an actual high that is very similar to what an alcoholic or drug addict feels. In fact, MRI studies suggest that those who struggle with serious gambling problems experience brain changes similar to those that occur with chemical addictions [1]. But there is one insidious way in which compulsive gambling differs from substance abuse. When someone is drunk, the signs are pretty easy to spot: slurred speech, staggering gait, glassy eyes, etc. When a person is high or using regularly, there are also many noticeable signs, such as an inability to focus or disheveled appearance. But with excessive gambling, there are few physical red flags, which is why it’s often called the hidden addiction.

Gambling is a problem only if you gamble every day.

Just like certain physical conditions, gambling addiction shows itself in different ways to different people. That means some problem gamblers play every day, either online or at a conventional gambling facility. Other gambling addicts only play occasionally-but when they do gamble, they gamble big. For example, they may take a “casino vacation” where they camp out at the blackjack table until every last dime is gone. Any gambling behavior that’s causing problems, from triggering arguments with a spouse to losing this month’s rent money, is a sign that it’s time to seek professional help.

People don’t get addicted to online gambling; after all, it’s like playing a video game!

Just because it looks like a video game and plays like a video game, doesn’t mean it is a harmless pastime. Conventional video games feature a mission or goal, but there are no real-world consequences attached to them. In online gambling, the stakes are as real as they get. People who become addicted to Internet gambling, whether it’s online poker or a slots website, risk serious financial, emotional stability, and even physical health consequences.

Gambling is a problem only when people can’t afford to lose their money.

There will always be a small percentage of the gambling population with the financial ability to weather big losses. But the fallout of gambling addiction isn’t always measured by someone’s economic situation. Excessive play at slots, casinos, or racetracks also destroys relationships. For example, people with the addiction become so wrapped up in wins and losses that they neglect to spend time with a partner or children. No matter how wealthy a gambler might be, no amount of money will repair a relationship ruined when a son realizes his dad would rather gamble than spend time with him.

Winning back the money or paying off the debt will eliminate a gambling problem.

Gambling addicts don’t play with the primary goal of winning back their losses; rather, they play for the high it brings. However, it’s common for those in denial about their illness to tell themselves and others that they’re only playing until they win back the lost money, and they’ll stop. While ailing out the gambler by paying off debts right away may seem like a quick solution, it’s not. It’s enabling. That just clears the slate, allowing the gambler to continue their destructive behavior. During or following treatment for a gambling addiction, it may be necessary to work with a financial expert to develop a reasonable, long-term plan to repay the gambling debts.

Gambling addiction is a problem for seniors only.

While seniors have certain risk factors that make them more vulnerable to compulsive gambling, the disorder can strike at almost any age For instance, research from Annenberg Public Policy Center suggests that high school boys may have a higher risk of gambling addiction. This group has latched onto the recent poker craze, with male athletes becoming particularly active poker players [2]. Another study has shown that 3% of college-age males report having at least one symptom of gambling excessively [3]. Other risk factors that suggest you’re more likely to develop a gambling addiction include:

  • Having a family member with a gambling addiction
  • Age – A person can develop compulsive gambling at any age, but those with the most severe forms of the disorder often started to gamble at a young age [4]. If you began to gamble as a child or youth, you may be at higher risk for developing a serious addiction.
  • Certain medications – Some prescription drugs, like those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, can trigger compulsive behavior.
  • Mental illness: People who already struggle with other mental disorders, like major depression or schizophrenia, are more likely to have problem gambling behaviors than those who do not [5].

The only thing that may be more dangerous than a gambling addiction is buying into the myths that prevent you from getting the help you need. The sooner you get into treatment for your gambling addiction, the sooner you can break free from the grip of this “hidden” addiction.

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