While it is true that most people can and do gamble responsibly, for some individuals, what may begin as just casual entertainment sometimes crosses over the line into problem gambling. Problem gambling includes compulsive or pathological gambling, also called gambling addiction. It is a highly disabling and progressive impulse control disorder that affects between 1 and 2 percent of the adult population. So, how do you know if you have a problem with gambling? Let’s look at some of the signs that may indicate trouble.
Preoccupation with Gambling
If gambling is all you think about most of your waking hours, if you scheme and finagle to figure out ways to indulge in your craving to gamble, you have an inordinate preoccupation with gambling. Such a fixation on finding ways and means to gamble becomes increasingly debilitating, to the point where you are no longer taking care of your day-to-day responsibilities, even your health. Chemical changes may be occurring in your brain. You may have a vulnerability marker for addiction – especially if you also abuse alcohol and/or drugs.
Losing Work Because of Gambling
How many times have you had to call in sick or take a day off from work because of your gambling activities? You may have been at the casino all night and aren’t fit to go to your job, or you may just blow off work because you had a string of bad luck at the tables or track. You don’t really care about work, anyway. All you’re thinking about is how to make back your losses or dig yourself out of the hole you’ve sunk into. And that means you’re preoccupied with gambling. Work productivity also suffers when you are on the job, since you’re most likely counting the hours until you can again get back to gambling. For some, it’s not lost time at work that occurs but skipping out on classes or ditching school altogether. The lure of gambling is just too great to compete with what soon comes to be seen as tedious responsibilities of class attendance and homework. Missing time from work or school as a result of frequent gambling is a sure sign that you have a problem that demands attention.
Gambling Makes Home Life Unhappy
It’s hard to have a normal, functioning family life if you’re constantly ducking out to gamble, hiding your losses, ferreting away money to indulge your gambling urges, and lying to loved ones about it all. Your spouse, parents, siblings or other loved ones sense that something’s wrong, but you deny there’s a problem. Over time, you become even more secretive. Lies build upon lies until you don’t even know yourself when you’re telling some shaded version of the truth or an outright falsehood. Besides, any feelings of guilt or tension fade away once you’re on your way to what really matters to you: gambling. You think you’re hiding your secret – and, maybe you are, to some extent. But with problem gambling, the truth always comes out eventually. Its what damage gets done in the meantime that may make the difference between being able to salvage what’s left of your family relationships or losing them forever.
Sleep Difficulties Because of Gambling
You toss and turn, sick in your gut over the losses you’ve incurred gambling. Next to you, your spouse or partner sleeps peacefully, unaware of the turmoil you’re going through. You stare at the ceiling, get up and drink a glass of water, maybe smoke a cigarette, pace around the living room or catch some fresh air out on the patio. You think you’ll be able to go back to sleep now. After all, it’s the wee hours of the morning. You’ve just returned home from the casino, still hyper from all the action. You snuck in without waking anyone and thought you were in the clear. But sleep doesn’t come. It almost never does anymore. There’s just too much on your mind. What if your wife (or husband) finds the cash missing you were saving for that new couch or weekend trip? What excuse can you come up with this time that will be believable? Maybe you should drive back to the casino. Maybe you’ll have a run of good luck this time. Yes, you’re exhausted. You’ve missed several days of work in the last couple of weeks and your boss has already warned you, but you don’t really care. One big win is all you need. Night after night, this scenario plays out. You definitely have a problem with gambling.
Experiencing Remorse After Gambling
You’ve long ago passed the stage where you were able to only gamble a set amount and not exceed it. Maxing out your credit cards, emptying your checking and/or savings accounts, seeing the hurt reactions on the faces of your family because you’ve let them down time and time again – it all adds up. You feel crummy, but you know it’s only temporary. All you need to feel good again is to go back and gamble. There’s nothing like the lights, sounds, and smell of the action to get you going. It makes your heart race, your blood quicken. It’s what you live for. But then there’s crash – when you inevitably come down again – and that kills you. This is remorse, and if you are experiencing it frequently after gambling, its another pretty accurate indication that you have a problem with gambling.
Your Reputation Suffers
You’ve noticed that people seem to be avoiding you more and more lately. At first, you didn’t give it a thought, but now it appears that not only are your friends steering clear of you, your co-workers and neighbors are turning aside with whispered comments as come into view. If you’ve been caught stealing or have had other brushes with the law as a result of your gambling, your reputation has undoubtedly taken a beating. No one likes to have their image tarnished, and reputation is something that, once damaged, is hard to restore. It doesn’t even have to be something major. Your reputation can suffer in the eyes of your family, who no longer look up to you with respect. You’ve slid down a few pegs, maybe a lot of pegs. As problem gambling worsens, reputations crumble like withered leaves that dissipate into dust and blow away. If your reputation has suffered as a result of your gambling activities, you may have a problem with gambling.
You’ve become a master at diverting money from this account to that account. It’s like a shell game or con where only you know what happened to the money: it’s gone to finance your gambling urges. If you’re the breadwinner, or in charge of paying the household bills, you have access and power over the finances. Problem gamblers soon develop an inordinate skill at whittling away checking and savings accounts without anyone being the wiser – for a time. But after awhile, the losses at the casino or track or Internet gambling require a massive infusion of cash. You need money now to pay off the bookie, to recoup your losses, to stick what you took back into the account before your spouse or partner finds out. As a consequence, bills often go unpaid or get paid late or with a bare minimum, financial difficulties build, and the person who’s fixated on gambling gets deeper and deeper in the hole.
Loss of Ambition or Efficiency
Life away from the casinos or time spent gambling starts to feel like being imprisoned. You’re stifled, lethargic, depressed – and your pace or progress at work or school deteriorates as a result. You simply have no ambition to get ahead anymore. What’s the use? You’d rather take your chances – literally – at the casino. At least there, when you win big, you’ll have all the answers. You won’t need this boring job to tie you down anymore. You skate through the day, doing as little as you can without attracting the scrutiny of your boss – or you make up excuses for why you’re so inefficient. You didn’t get the reports from the team on time, the supplier sent the wrong order, and so on. You don’t even see that your boss is starting to calculate that your productivity is not up to par. How could you? You’re trying to figure out how to leave early so you can go gamble.
Desperate to Recoup Losses
You’ve got it all right there in your mind. You know exactly how much you’re in the hole, how much you need to win back and win back quickly. In fact, you’re so desperate to recoup your losses that you begin to take extraordinary risks. You may steal money from a co-worker, embezzle funds, write bad checks, drain your children’s college fund account. This desperation is fueled by a feeling that you absolutely have to get back to gambling in order to be made whole again. You no longer have any control over whether or not you go gambling. You just have to go. You’re compelled to go. It’s the only way you can win back your money, the money that’s rightfully yours. At least, that’s what you tell yourself. But the more you gamble, the more you lose. And the more desperate you become to recoup those losses.
Gamble More After a Big Win
Common sense would tell you that after you win you should quit while you’re ahead. But common sense went out the window long ago. When you do hit it big, you feel emboldened, on top of the world, like you can’t lose. So you gamble more – and the house always wins. There’s simply no way you’re going to come out on top. So, why the compulsion to continue to gamble after a win? It doesn’t make any logical sense. But that’s why it’s called compulsive gambling. Your brain isn’t functioning according to logic. You’re acting on your urges and the urges are the only things winning.
Continuing to Gamble Until the Last Dollar is Gone
Have you ever gambled until you didn’t have another dollar to your name? You’ve cleaned out your bank accounts, spent your gas money, maxed out your credit cards, borrowed the last dime you could from anyone who’s still talking to you, and still you’re looking for a few quarters to continue to gamble. At this point, you no longer care about tomorrow or the consequences of squandering away all your money, possibly all the money that your family has as well. You’re only concerned with right now, with being able to come up with some cash so you can keep on gambling. You’re incredibly hooked, and most definitely have a problem with gambling.
Taking Out Loans to Finance Gambling Urges
It’s a little tougher these days to take out a loan – whether it’s ostensibly to fix up the house, buy a car, put your kid through college or anything else. For those who still have the collateral and credit score to be able to obtain a loan, taking one out for the real purpose of financing gambling activities is a bad sign that the person has a problem with gambling – and it’s getting worse. Incurring debt to chase after games of chance is a losing proposition. It’s an indicator the individual is quickly losing his or her grip on reality. But, then again, compulsive gamblers always think that the big win is just around the corner.
Gambling to Escape
If you go out to the casino to gamble as a means of escaping your worries, troubles at home, boredom or loneliness, you may have a problem. Gambling, in and of itself, isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that you feel that you’re only alive while you’re gambling. When you’re in the casino or at the track, you’re not bogged down in the turmoil with your wife (or husband) and kids, with the big project that failed because you let the team down at work. Furthermore, you’re not bored while you’re in the midst of the action. You’re not lonely either. After all, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people here just like you who are chasing Lady Luck. Gambling to escape worries, problems, boredom and loneliness once in a while doesn’t mean you have a problem with gambling. It can be a sign that you have a problem, however, if that’s what you do frequently. In fact, problem gambling often begins with escape gambling. It just progresses from there.
Gambling as the First Choice of Entertainment
When others suggest going out to have a good time, do you automatically suggest (or think of) gambling as the first choice of entertainment? Whereas most people may think of going out to dinner or the movies or to a concert or just getting together with friends, a person who’s got or is developing a problem with gambling only thinks about gambling. Nothing else holds any allure. Nothing else is as satisfying, as exciting, as worthwhile. If gambling is your sole form of entertainment, you may be a problem gambler.
Gambling After Arguments, Frustrations, Disappointments
You’ve just had a major argument with your spouse. Or you lost a big client at work. Perhaps you didn’t get the promotion you felt you deserved. Your first thought – and the one you act on – is to go out and gamble. Does this sound like you? Gambling as a way to cope following arguments, frustrations, and disappointments is a poor strategy. In reality, you’re likely putting yourself in the position of incurring more frustration by losing money gambling. This will increase your sense of frustration and disappointment and may very likely result in even more arguments when you return home.
Losing all Sense of Time
Gamblers will gamble until they run out of money, drop dead, or are booted out of the casino. At least, it often seems that way. What happens is that they get all caught up in the adrenaline rush, the thrill of the potential big win, the excitement of being where the action is. Time slips by without notice. And the gambler never worries about time. This is why there aren’t any clocks in the casinos. Time doesn’t matter. They operate 24 hours a day. The house knows that the longer the gambler continues to play, the more the odds are in the house’s favor. The gambler will inevitably lose everything he or she has won. Free drinks, entertainment – whatever it takes – the casinos are in the business of keeping the gambler in the establishment. And it works. If you find yourself losing all sense of time in the casinos, or at the track, or gambling on the Internet, you may have a problem with gambling.
Family Welfare Suffers
When the welfare of the family begins to suffer as a result of gambling, it’s likely that gambling has progressed to a severe stage. If you lose your house or are evicted from your apartment, had your car repossessed, or are sent to jail for crimes committed to finance your gambling, you have entered the phase of gambling that is now a steep downward slide.
Thoughts of Self-Destruction
If you’ve ever contemplated hurting yourself or others, or entertained thoughts of suicide, or attempted to kill yourself as a result of your gambling, you desperately need help for your problem. It’s gone far beyond casual to problem to compulsive gambling addiction. Do not wait a minute longer. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Help is Available
If you see yourself and your behavior in any of these signs, you can benefit from help. And help is available to you. If you have engaged in several of these behaviors, you are most likely experiencing a problem with gambling. If most of these signs apply to you, you are at serious risk. Contact the 24-hour confidential National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-422-4700. There are also treatment facilities that specialize in treating gambling addiction and substance abuse. Don’t allow your life to continue to go downhill. Regain your self-esteem and restore your dignity. Get help for your gambling problem today. You – and your family – will reap the benefits. And this is one instance where you have a very good chance of winning. It’s all up to you.