Home » Blog » Complete Gambling Addiction Guide – Help for Problem Gambling
Written by Daniel Wagner
(Updated on October 12, 2021)
Gambling is meant to be a source of fun and entertainment, just like any other type of gaming, but with risks and prizes involved. Unfortunately, some people develop a problem gambling behavior that might later develop into an addiction.
It turns out that the brain develops a rewarding feeling to which we can get addicted, even when there is no use of substances involved. The neural changes related to addiction can assume control of our actions, and that is why it is important to always have support as soon as possible. To assist in the prevention and the way to its cure, we developed this complete gambling addiction guide.
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Gambling Addiction – Statistics & Facts
Before explaining more about gambling addiction and its difference from gambling problems, we would like our readers to have a glimpse at its statistics and facts. From specific countries to worldwide data, that information can help us understand how big the issue is from the beginning of this century.
1 in 20 college students meet the criteria for gambling problems (Shaffer, H. & Hall, M. 2001)
Alcohol abusers have 23x more chances of becoming addicted to gambling.² (Jon E. Grant, M.D., Matt G. Kushner, Ph.D., and Suck Won Kim, M.D.)
There is an estimation that around 750,000 people in America, between 14 and 21 years old, are problem gamblers. (buffalo.edu)
Living up to 10 miles next to a casino doubles the risk of a problem or addiction. (buffalo.edu)
Problem gambling is more common than alcohol dependence among adults in the United States. (buffalo.edu)
Men are more than two times more prone to frequent gambling than women. (buffalo.edu)
There are around 350 million problematic gamblers around the world. (who.int)
In the US, 4% to 5% of the youth, from 12 to 17 years old, met at least one criterion for gambling problems. Another 10% to 14$ were at risk of developing some type of addiction. (ncpgambling.org)
2% of Canadians above 15 years old have gambling problems. (kflaph.ca)
The Difference Between Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling
Not everyone who started to face gambling problems is already an addicted person. Gambling addiction is a serious and real condition that must be addressed in a multidisciplinary manner. On the other hand, problem gambling only implies that it has already started to impact your life in some manner.
Consequently, a gambling problem that is not yet an addiction can be stopped with much less effort if the person is willing to do so. It will not necessarily develop to become a gambling addiction, but it is important to treat the cause. If gambling cannot be reversed to take a healthier part in the life of that individual, it should be avoided altogether.
What are the Risk Factors to Become Addicted to Gambling?
It is not simply gambling that leads to an addiction, or else every player would become an addicted person. Instead, there are several genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that increase the risk of developing a gambling problem or addiction. The most prominent ones are:
High levels of stress.
Loneliness and lack of social interaction.
Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
Experiences that led to traumas.
Genetic predisposition to addiction.
Lack of goals and motivation.
Proximity to addicted gamblers.
One great example of how addiction is intimately connected to choices is a study by the NIDA – National Institute on Drug Abuse, which used rats. In short, even though all of them had been exposed to highly addictive drugs, 90% of those who had social interaction as an alternative ignored the substances entirely.
We know that humans have a similar approach to addictions and that gambling addiction can be compared with drug and alcohol abuse. Therefore, the vast majority of people who find comfort and happiness in other aspects of life will not turn to gamble with unhealthy behavior.
What are The Consequences of Gambling Addiction?
The negative effects of any type of addiction are felt in every possible sphere of someone’s life, and it also impacts everyone around. When it comes to gambling, the most important consequences are found in the familiar circle and in financial life.
Relatives, spouses, and especially kids tend to suffer when a member of the family is addicted to gambling. The children can develop emotional problems and carry traumas for life because of it.
Not everyone who is addicted reaches the point of committing crimes to have money to gamble. However, huge and unpayable loans and using money that should not be spent are common consequences. The addiction might lead to job loss, especially due to lack of productivity, which only makes the financial problems worse.
Taking it to a holistic perspective, consider the consequences to the national economy with hundreds of thousands of gambling-addicted people. That situation leads to increased expenditure on their caring, expansion of fraud cases, bankruptcy, higher unemployment, and higher risk of other addictions, like alcohol abuse.
How Serious are Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling?
Gambling addiction is a serious and real issue that can happen to anyone, although some people will have more susceptibility to it. As shown, its consequences impact not only the life of the addicted person but also everyone around it and the economy as a whole. On the other hand, a gambling problem is a mild form of wrong use of gambling that should be treated as soon as possible.
Are There Different Types of Gambling Addiction?
Every person suffering from gambling addiction might face different struggles. However, it does not mean that there are varying types of gambling addiction. Instead, the focus should be on the existing problem, which demands immediate treatment. All the pages that categorize it have no evidence to support claims and are usually of no help to those who suffer.
The Three Stages of Compulsive Gambling – Learn to Identify Them
There is a simplistic way of putting how gambling addiction starts. It helps to understand where it can develop, but this information should only be used as a reference. In short, the three phases can be named Optimism, Delusion, and Compulsion. It is important to mention that the first stage is only a spirit state that everyone, even those gambling in a healthy manner, can experience:
Optimism – It is the feeling of plenitude and abundance that strikes anyone on a lucky streak when gambling. Knowing that it is temporary and that losses are also part of the game, plus establishing limits, is essential to keep yourself safe and away from gambling addiction.
Delusion – Ignoring the fact that gambling is not a sure way to win or to become rich, people might develop a gambling problem at this stage. It will start to spend more money than should be used, and gambling becomes a priority. This stage already demands help and support.
Compulsion – The problem becomes an addiction, and now the person cannot keep away from gambling. It becomes an essential part of life. It is probably resulting in consequences in social, financial, and family life by now. Help is urgent at this stage.
Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
It might be difficult for those who are developing gambling addiction symptoms to notice them, even when they know the signs. Therefore, it is extremely useful that everyone learns to detect the main signs and symptoms of gambling addiction. In terms of actions, we can mention:
Always thinking about gambling and willing to play it.
Spending more money than would be wise or affordable.
Concerns and/or criticism from others that realize gambling is already resulting in consequences.
Avoidance of social meetings and interactions to gamble.
Losing appointments and skipping important routine activities.
There are signs that reflect in the physical or emotional state of the person developing a gambling addiction, such as:
Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Loss of weight.
Anger and difficulties in controlling the temper.
Not showing pleasure in things that used to be enjoyable.
Self-Test to Identify Gambling Addiction – Quiz
This quick test can be applied to oneself or to someone that is probably developing a gambling problem or addiction. All the questions must be answered in complete honesty for it to have some validity, and it is only the first step towards seeking professional help. The questions are:
Do you bet more money than it would be wise to?
Have you ever borrowed money or sold things to gamble?
Is gambling only satisfactory, or does it get more enjoyable only with high bets?
Has anyone ever told you that you have a gambling problem?
Do you try to recover the gambling losses?
Do you believe that you might have some type of gambling problem?
Has gambling ever caused you or someone close financial issues?
Is guilt present in your gambling routine?
There are four different answers that the respondent must stick to in order to conclude the test. The answers accumulate points and, in case the person scores at least 8, that is an indication that there might be a gambling problem involved:
Always or Almost Always – 3 points
Most of the time – 2 points
Sometimes – 1 point
Never – No point
5 Myths and Facts About Gambling Addiction
❌ Myth 1: Addicted gamblers are those who gamble every day.
✔️ Truth: The frequency is not as important as the consequences that gambling is having in the life of the gamblers and those next to them.
❌ Myth 2: if there are no financial problems, gambling is not an issue.
✔️ Truth: There are other consequences, even when the gambler has enough money to sustain the addiction.
❌ Myth 3: Helping the gambler with money is a way of supporting him/her.
✔️ Truth: Paying for the addiction does not solve the problem and can lead to other consequences. It is essential to seek professional help.
❌ Myth 4: Only those already with problems and weak people get addicted.
✔️ Truth: Several environmental and even genetic factors can play a role in addiction. Nobody is 100% free from it.
❌ Myth 5: Prohibiting the addicted person to gamble is the solution.
✔️ Truth: The treatment has nothing to do with restraining the addicted, who will try to gamble anyway. That is why professional help is so necessary.
How to Treat Gambling Addiction?
The treatment for gambling addiction is multidisciplinary and must be addressed accordingly. Each case will demand a different level of intervention and help, but, in general, the treatment might involve:
Rehab – According to the indication of a licensed professional, addicted gamblers might be directed to rehab programs that can offer full support to the recovery of control over their lives.
Support groups – There are general support groups, as well as those specific for addicted gamblers, which can be a great addition to the support that must be found within family and friends. The numbers found at the end of this guide might help, depending on your location.
Medication – There might be medications that can help ease the process of recovering from a gambling addiction, but it demands the recommendation from a physicist.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – A psychological treatment that can aid gamblers in overcoming the lines of thought that drive them to their addiction.
How to Overcome Your Gambling Problem?
If you understand that you are facing a gambling problem, that is the first essential step to overcome it by yourself. Reversing that situation can avoid reaching a higher degree of addiction, which can result in severe consequences. Your next actions must involve:
Acknowledge the situation – Now that you have admitted you have a gambling problem understand that it is not your fault, that it can happen to anyone, and that you can find a way out.
Avoid the triggers – Learn to identify the triggers that lead you to think or desire to gamble. It might be when you are bored or stressed or whenever you want to feel satisfaction. A psychologist can help in that step. As a solution, think of something else that could be equally satisfactory, like being with people you love or enjoying another hobby.
Seek help for other problems – The cause of your gambling problem might be an underlying mental problem, like anxiety or chronic stress. If you have any existing condition or another type of addiction, seek treatment for it to help you resolve the gambling problem.
Talk with others – It is important to seek support and the help of those close to you, even when you feel that you can endure everything alone. Those bonds will not only help you overcome it better but can also prevent it from ever happening again.
13 Tips to Avoid Gambling Cravings
When trying to overcome a gambling problem or addiction, cravings and even desperation to gamble again might occur. That is part of the recovery, and it is important to fight against it. Some tips can help people overcome that situation:
Determine what you will do with the money you have and the money you will receive. Have a predetermined goal for them, and remember that gambling with that money would not let you accomplish those goals.
Try to associate all the bad feelings and actions that you have ever experienced because of gambling whenever you crave it.
Avoid common triggers that lead you to think or desiring gambling altogether.
Find new practices that let you train your mindfulness, like meditation.
Dedicate time to hobbies, and even find new ones.
Remember that exercising is essential to your help and can also assist in diminishing those cravings.
Plan the entire day the night before to ensure that you will always be busy, even with friends or family.
Enroll in problems that demand logic or thinking hard to eliminate the thoughts about gambling.
Do not anticipate events or consequences. Try to think of that day you are getting through and nothing else.
Delete subscriptions, notifications, accounts, and anything else related to gambling.
If the thought persists, tell yourself that gambling is a game of loss and that your wishful thinking of winning in it is more likely not going to occur.
Write a diary or a list of things for which you are grateful, focusing on the best aspects of your life.
Adopt the “just for today” mantra when everything gets too difficult and convince yourself that you will think through everything tomorrow. Just for today, you will not play.
How to Stop Gambling Once and For All?
In addition to everything that has been explored in this complete gambling addiction guide, there are extra tips to make sure an addicted gambler will not get back to gambling. Of course, everything should go hand in hand with professional support.
Understand It is a Problem and Consider the Consequences
Never underestimate the consequences of having a gambling problem when you realize that signs and symptoms are present. It can truly ruin a life once it becomes an addiction, and it will affect several other lives as well. That said, seek professional help for yourself or someone else as soon as possible.
Find Group Support
It is proven that, as social beings, we can always overcome difficulties better when we find support in our community. It can be family, friends, or even people who are going or have already been through the same situation. The ideal scenario would be a combination of all those.
Find Alternatives to Gambling
Addictions arise partially from the need to feel strong emotions, which can be acquired through other and healthier sources for those who find themselves with gambling problems. In fact, they are usually good replacers in any situation:
Traveling, exploration, adventure.
Physical exercise and sports.
Socializing, participating in clubs and communities.
Volunteering and assisting in support groups.
Practicing mindfulness, like meditation.
Teenage Gambling Addiction – How to Prevent?
As introduced in the gambling statistics and facts at the beginning of this guide, teenagers are more than only at risk of developing a gambling addiction. In fact, it is possible that they are even more susceptible to having a problem due to the changes in the brain during that phase of life.
Without a doubt, the cure to avoid risky behavior related to gambling in the teenage years is to reinforce prevention. It might start with apparently innocent card playing or online social gambling and develop into something more serious. Teenagers should not be gambling in any form, especially not online and without supervision.
Statistics and Facts of Teenage Gambling Addiction
In the US, 4% to 5% of the youth, from 12 to 17 years old, met at least one criterion for gambling problems. Another 10% to 14$ were at risk of developing some type of addiction. (ncpgambling.org)
60% to 80% of high school students in the US gamble for money, while 4-6% of that total are already considered addicted. (ncpgambling.org)
Girls are less likely to develop gambling problems when compared to boys. (ncpgambling.org)
There is a 1:25 ratio for teenage gambling problems, which is quite high. (therecoveryvillage.com)
84% of the parents who know that their children gamble do not see gambling as a risky activity for teenagers. (youthgambling.mcgill.ca)
In Canada, 86% of the children who gamble did it with family members, and 75% gambled in their own homes. The same studies show that they tend to change their gambling companions from family to friends at some point, and that is when it starts to get riskier. (youthgambling.mcgill.ca)
A study in the US showed that the most common gambling activity was card games (33%), followed by pools, raffles, and small stakes (30%). Sports betting represented 23%. (Grace M. Barnes, Ph.D.,† John W. Welte, Ph.D., Joseph H. Hoffman, M.A., and Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell, Ph.D.)
Especially for male teenagers, there was a strong association between alcohol and gambling problems. (Grace M. Barnes, Ph.D.,† John W. Welte, Ph.D., Joseph H. Hoffman, M.A., and Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell, Ph.D.)
Risk Factors for Teenagers
Although there are risk factors that work the same way for adults and teenagers, the second group has particularities that can make them prone to developing risky gambling behavior. Some risk factors are:
Activities that release a lot of dopamine, like gambling, can make the developing brain of teens and children addicted to it.
Having people with gambling problems or addiction close to them.
Being already engaged in activities or behaviors that result in addiction.
Anxiety, depression, and other disorders of the mind can happen to anyone.
Traumas and other negative experiences in life.
An impulsive personality and immediatism.
Being targeted by advertisements on the web.
Enrolling in social gambling games with no money or profit can develop addiction and later change to the real version.
Having access to casinos, physical or online, when they should not.
How to Identify Teenage Gambling Addiction?
Due to their brain development stage and the critical moment they are in life, it is extremely important to detect signs of teenage gambling addiction. Unfortunately, it will almost always be necessary for some professional to help to identify if the signs are not completely clear:
Starting to focus more on the odds of sports, even those that did not arouse interest before, instead of the game itself.
Sudden changes in mood, drive, or temper when prevented from gambling or playing.
No information on where the money goes or where new money is coming from.
Skipping meetings and appointments, especially if connected to bad marks at school.
Going back to gambling after trying to stop it.
Trying to recover gambling losses, or talking a lot about it, showing that the losses are not being accepted.
Spending way too much time playing on the phone or computer.
Lying or denying to have a gambling problem or to gamble at all.
Too much excitement regarding victories or gambling.
Some of the signs might be related to other addictions or behaviors that also need intervention but not necessarily relate to gambling.
How to Prevent Teenagers From Becoming Addicted to Gambling?
There are different approaches depending on whether the teenager or child is already enrolled in gambling or if it is not part of their life. In both cases, information is the first step to prevent addiction or a gambling problem. It is important to highlight the risks of gambling, that losses are part of it, and that its aim should only be fun.
All the tips and attitudes related to overcoming a gambling problem obviously apply to teenagers as well. However, it might be necessary for someone, preferably those close to the person, to enforce them somehow. Dialogue and finding new hobbies together will possibly work better than restrictions and prohibitions.
Where and How do Teenagers Gamble Nowadays?
According to the statistics and facts, it is possible that card games are among the preferable gambling choices for teenagers. However, it is possible that preferences change according to the country and local culture of each community.
Although it is fairly easy to access online gambling websites nowadays, even in countries where local gambling is forbidden, they are not the main source for that public. That occurs because there is strong monitoring applied to all those websites. Their licenses to operate depend on reinforcing responsible gambling and verifying that the underage is not gambling.
The control can be more difficult in land-based casinos and clandestine locations, and that is why it is important to identify signs and help teenagers at risk. Still, it might only start with small bets among friends or family and escalate as an addiction starts to settle.
Consequences and Effects of Teenage Gambling Addiction
There are consequences of gambling addiction on teenagers that can ruin several aspects of their life, both at that moment and in the years to come. Among them:
Abuse of substances or drugs, as it seems to be connected with gambling addiction in teen years.
Overall decrease in performance in school and other activities.
Difficulties in creating and maintaining relationships.
No goals or planning for anything other than gambling.
Worsening or appearance of serious conditions like depression and anxiety.
Insomnia, and emotional changes.
Financial issues and possibly crimes to sustain the addiction.
Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Tutors
Everyone that is responsible for the teenager to some degree should put into action any plan to help reverse the gambling problem. There are some hints to assist in that task:
Talk about gambling openly, explaining how it truly works and that it is by no means a way to win money or get rich.
Try to assemble those that are important in the life of the teenager for an open talk, highlighting positive aspects of life.
Explain the consequences to their lives as soon as they lose control of it.
Do not encourage gambling in any form for a teenager, as it is a phase that is too susceptible to its negative effects.
If necessary, eliminate any chances of physical and digital access to where it is possible to gamble.
Ask about the routine and try to notice changes or lies.
Talk to those who live with that person about the importance of providing a safe environment, yourself included.
How to Help a Gambling Addicted?
Anyone that has already developed a gambling addiction will always need professional help. Similar to any other type of addiction, instant resolution resulting from one’s will alone is often not possible. It should be understood, by both the addicted person and those willing to help, that it will be a long process with possible setbacks.
The best way to start is to identify signs and symptoms and seek help while applying the to-do list below.
To-Do List for Partners, Parents, and Relatives
Talk about it. Try to understand how the person feels about what is going on.
Contact support groups and talk the person into it.
The sooner the right course of action is taken, the better the chances to work around the problem.
Do not look for medications or other forms that are supposedly going to work like a charm.
It might be necessary to assume control over the person’s financial life.
If possible, be with the person in support groups and therapy sessions.
Phone Numbers and Online Help
Gambling Phone Numbers and Online Help in North America
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