Addiction is stealthy, nasty and unpredictable. In reality there is no reliable defense against addiction besides abstinence — don’t start drinking, drugging or gambling in the first place and nothing bad can happen. But human beings will always engage in a certain amount of risky behavior, putting themselves in the crosshairs without fully considering the consequences.
It has often been said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and this observation applies in a wide variety of circumstances. For active gamblers, the only protection they have against the enslavement of addiction is to pay close attention to how their hobby is affecting their lives, and to react accordingly if they see the signs of addiction beginning to manifest.
But what exactly are those signs? How can you — or the people who love you and know you the best — accurately detect the impending arrival of a pathological gambling condition?
Ask an addiction specialist these questions, and he or she will tell you that you might have a gambling problem if …
· Your most passionate area of interest in sports is now gambling: When you first started wagering on games or races, or participating in fantasy sports leagues, you probably did so to add a little spice to your existing interest in sports. But if what was once a supplementary activity has now become more important to you than whether your team wins or loses, or whether the games are entertaining, your perspective has become warped and you need to reconsider what you’ve been doing with your life.
· You’ve started hiding your gambling activities, or telling little white lies to keep others from knowing what’s really going on: There are no rationalizations that should make you feel better if you have lied to or misled anyone about your gambling. If you think lying to protect a gambling habit is OK, you’re lying to yourself about the depth of your problem.
· You’ve begun to place last-minute, unplanned bets: If your betting becomes compulsive in this way, it means addiction is making itself at home in your life. It may not seem that way the first couple of times you decide to put your money down on a whim or a hunch, but impulsive wagering will quickly take on a life of its own and that is a beast you don’t want to feed.
· You find yourself chasing losses (placing new bets to cover old losses): Sensible gambling begins with a sensible budget. But once you start betting to get back to even, it means all restraint has been abandoned and all sense has been lost. This is compulsive, uncontrolled gambling pure and simple.
· You are placing bets outside your area of expertise: At first you gambled based on your knowledge, interests and skills. Whether it was blackjack, poker, horse racing or the NFL, you knew you were in your element and were confident in your ability to stay ahead of the game. But now, suddenly, you have branched out into areas where your previous experience is minimal and your insight is lacking. This is illogical and contrary to your interests, and a definite sign your gambling is controlling you instead of the other way around.
· You are factoring anticipated future earnings into the equation when deciding how much to gamble: Spending money before you have it (on credit) or spending more than you can afford will get you into trouble every time. Of course it’s always possible your boss will give you that raise you deserve; or maybe your rich uncle who just passed away really did include you in his will. But resorting to wishful thinking to justify your prodigious wagering could be a sign you’ve retreated into a fantasy world in order to avoid facing the truth about your addiction.
· You’ve been borrowing money to gamble: Not just to pay off your gambling debts, which is bad enough, but actually borrowing money in order to place entirely new wagers. Borrowing to fund new gambling activities is a flashing red light that positively screams “Danger! Danger!” And of course if you are doing this, you are undoubtedly lying about it, since even your friendly neighborhood loan shark won’t loan you money if he knows you’re going to throw it away chasing after rainbows.
· You are making bets based on “meaningful” coincidences: If you are taking the Colts and the Broncos to cover the point spread because your nephew just told you he wanted a baby horse for Christmas, or you are betting on the No. 5 horse in the fifth race because the bass player in your all-time favorite rock band just turned 55, you are delusional and in deep trouble.
· You’ve actually started to ask yourself, “Do I have a gambling problem”? If you decide after contemplating this question that the answer is “yes,” you should trust your instincts and seek professional help immediately. But on the other hand, if you manage to convince yourself the answer is “no,” there is a 99.9 percent chance you are in denial.