There was a time when people only acknowledged one type of addiction – addiction to substances such as drugs, nicotine, and alcohol. However, throughout the years of human development, more and more specialists began realizing that there was something more to it than just addictive substances. People were, and are, forming addictions to brain stimulation from certain activities that bring said stimulation.
Gambling is one of the activities that has been discovered to cause this addictive behavior in humans. But what exactly is problem gambling, why should it be considered an issue? This activity becomes an issue, or “problem gambling” when an individual starts spending abnormal periods of time indulging in gambling activities. When one starts wagering more than they can afford and the person begins to harm themselves and others around them because of the excessive time and funds they put into it.
The thing is, once the problem gambling becomes too severe, it tends to be either too late, or extremely hard to overcome the addiction. That is why it is important to learn what the symptoms are, how to recognize them on time, and how to properly tackle the issue.
Unsettling Trends – How Common is Gambling Addiction?
When you start thinking about it, gambling addictions are quite unpleasant, as all types of impulsive behavior are. It gets you thinking, how common is this thing, do lots of people suffer from problem gambling. We have put together a few numbers to identify the percentage of problem gambling in various developed markets to shed some light on the subject.
Gambling Addiction Around the World
Gambling Addiction in the US
Gambling Addiction in the UK
Gambling Addiction in Australia
Gambling Addiction in Italy
The United States of America has a huge population and despite its complex legal landscape, there is a huge number of citizens that have gambling issues. There are many legal restrictions on such activities in the US, nevertheless, the state still generates around $137.5 billion annually. Nevada is the state with the highest prevalence of gambling addiction in the country with roughly 6.4%.
An extensive survey was conducted in 2016 to identify the extent of gambling addiction. The results showed that between 2.2% and 2.6% of the population (near 10 million people) suffered from various levels of problem gambling.
In 2015, it is estimated that the average state gambling revenue per resident of ages 18+ is $113 per year. The total state revenues from gambling taxes and fees amount to $27.7 billion. In contrast to that, the average amount of state agency funds contributed to problem gambling per resident is estimated at around $0.23.
Another survey was conducted in 2018 on the participation of Americans in blackjack, poker, roulette, and other similar table games in land-based casinos. Results showed that 46% of people from age groups 18-29, 50% of 30-49, and 36% of 50-64 had partaken in such activities.
The same survey also looked into participation rates in slot machines in casinos. Studies showed that nearly 22% of the younger age group, 18-29, had participated in this type of activity. Another interesting fact is that about 11% of Americans visit and place bets on online sports betting sites. A further 13% of Americans are familiar with the online betting platform Bet Online.
When asked about their opinions of gambling, the American public had many positive emotions towards the activity. In 2018, 49% of Americans had a positive view of gambling, saying that casinos helped communities where they are located. Around 71% of them claimed that casinos create jobs and 57% of Americans say that casinos help local economies. Two thirds of the population think of gambling as high-quality entertainment.View more...
The Biochemistry of a Hidden Addiction
Just like any other psychological sickness, addiction is an illness that affects the brain of an individual. It is important to understand the biochemistry of a hidden addiction to be aware of what is really going on inside the head of an addict.
Gambling addiction is quite similar if not the same as any other addiction, such as an addiction to narcotic substances or alcohol. It develops a reward system in your brain that consists of urge and satisfying the urge, releasing dopamine and serotonin into the body. Repeating this system over and over creates neurological paths of the brain until the condition becomes compulsive.
To understand the biochemistry of addiction, you must know how your brain works. Our emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions, and actions are all controlled by a complex system of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, endogenous opioids, and hormones.
Individuals with impulsive disorders have been found to have imbalanced levels of dopamine. Dopamine is released when a person indulges in stimulating activities or substances such as drugs or gambling.
People with low levels of serotonin can also have issues controlling their desires, which can lead to several different bad habits. This neurotransmitter is implicated in mood, cognition, and emotion.
Endogenous opioids are like the body’s natural opiate-like substances, such as endorphins. They are released in your body to cause happiness or numb pain. If an individual has opioidergic systems, they may have a harder time controlling urges or desires and can lead to addictive behavior.
Cortisol is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s stress and adrenaline levels. Higher levels of this hormone can also be related to impulse control disorders, being one of the common causes of addictive gambling.
When a person is suffering from addictive gambling, it is likely due to unbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain. This can cause an individual to feel a certain, strong urge to continue gambling despite their knowledge that it is becoming a problem.
There is a certain pleasure that comes with the neurotransmitters being released into your body when you play or win a gambling activity. It often begins when one starts lying about their activities because they know it is wrong and would rather not talk about it. This kind of behavior can be quite harmful to a person and those around them. The longer it goes without treatment, the worse it gets and the harder it gets to overcome.
The Road to Recovery - Dos and Don'ts Rules for Recovering
When a problem gambler has begun taking the road to recovery, it is important to show them understanding and not lash out at them. Being supportive is what friends and family need to do for a person with a gambling addiction. Here is a list of dos for partners and family members to stick to:
Seek emotional support from close friends or people in similar circumstances. Trying out a self-help group for families is another idea. Sometimes it is hard to deal with your own emotions around a gambling addict.
Never preach, lecture, or argue with an addict about their habits. This will just push them away from you and make a lapse more likely to occur.
Focus on the good qualities of the person with a gambling addiction. Remember, their illness is a real thing, even if you can not see it physically. The addiction and its symptoms do not form the person’s character.
Exclude the person from family activities as punishment.
Always remain calm in interactions with the person regarding their gambling habits and the consequences.
Expect immediate recovery just because they have accepted they have an issue. It is also important not to expect all issues to be resolved if the gambling stops.
Calmly let the person know how their gambling is affecting you and other people around you (children, family members). Let them know you are also seeking help to deal with your own emotions. This can help give them the motivation to stick to quitting. Remember, if they have lapses, that does not mean they do not care about you.
Pay the debts of the gambler. This will just enable them to lapse back into old habits as the stress of debt is not looming over them, thus taking away the element of reality check.
If children are involved in the situation, it is important to explain to them about gambling addiction. This enlightens them on the issues going on and will help them cope with the negative effects of the addiction.
Hide or deny the existence of the issue. Closing your eyes to the situation is only going to make it worse. Be open with friends and family so everyone can deal with the situation accordingly.
Understand the amount of time the person may need to put into their gambling addiction treatment.
Set boundaries in terms of finances. Take control of the financial aspects of the family and limit their access to family savings. Review bank statements to make sure no lapses go unnoticed.
Where to Seek Help?
The world is making more and more leaps forward every day in terms of technology. Courtesy of this, there are many solutions available to people who need help controlling their gambling issues.
Talking to your loved ones is the first step. If you are open and honest about your feelings and the turmoil you are going through, having people who love, support, and understand that you are going to have a great impact on your issues. Feeling loved and supported is a definite positive impact on all forms of addiction.
It may be an idea to consult with your personal doctor if you have realized that your gambling habits are a problem. Your doctor can help put you on the right path to choosing a suitable solution or organization for managing your gambling.
Support/peer groups are another great option for helping yourself start the long road to recovery. Having people who understand and know what you are going through from first-hand experience is comforting and will help you find the right path.
Most countries that have developed gambling markets also have organizations to help problem gamblers. These organizations have experience with the psychology of a problem gambler and will be well-equipped to help you manage your gambling activities.
For UK residents, GamCare and Be Gamble Aware are a great choice to help you deal with your addiction. Australian residents can turn to LifeLine, another organization dedicated to helping gambling addicts. The US has a National Council on Problem Gambling that can offer a helping hand. Italian citizens can reach out to Gioca Resposabile if they are experiencing gambling addiction.
It is important to understand that admitting there is a problem is not a weakness but actually shows your strength as an individual. This is the first step to recovery, so never be ashamed to say, oh dear, I seem to have taken this too far. It is never too late to turn back, but it is also better if you tackle the issue on time. Seek the help you need and never be ashamed to do so.