There are diverse types of addiction, but most people think of chemical substances such as alcohol or drugs when they hear the word ‘addiction’. It is true that these substances can be highly addictive and can cause crippling addictions, but these are not the only things that individuals can become addicted to. In fact, addiction can be classed as any pattern of behaviour that has negative consequences on the life of the individual. And one of the most destructive types of addiction is gambling addiction. So, what makes gambling addiction so destructive and so devastating. In this article, we want to give you a clearer understanding of what gambling addiction is and explain the way it can devastate the lives of so many people.
What Is Gambling Addiction?
Many people gamble regularly without ever having any problems. They are more than capable of placing the occasional bet on the horses or a line on the lottery every week without becoming consumed by this activity. However, there are some individuals for whom gambling becomes an obsession that starts to take over their life. These are the people who have developed a gambling addiction.
It is worth mentioning that like other addictions, gambling addiction rarely occurs overnight. For most, it is a gradual process that occurs over time. In the early days, the individual is just like everyone else and gambling is a pleasurable activity. It is just a bit of fun and the person is betting small amounts of money in the hope of getting a big return.
Nevertheless, the thrill of the bet can affect the brain of some people in the same way that chemical substances such as drugs or alcohol can. Over time, the individual will become increasingly more preoccupied with gambling, to the point where he or she can think of little else. All that will matter is the next bet and how it can be funded.
Why Are Some People Affected While Others Are Not?
As with all addictions, not everyone who gambles will go on to develop an addiction; most people will not, in fact. There is just no way of knowing who will and who will not as there is no single cause of addiction in anyone.
What research has shown, however, is that there are certain risk factors that make it more likely for some to develop an addiction than others. These risk factors can include:
- a family history of addiction
- the environment
- traumatic experiences
- early exposure.
Those with a family history of addiction have a higher likelihood of becoming addicts themselves. This is partly down to genes and partly down to attitude to gambling as the individual grew up. Most people believe that having witnessed the devastation and destruction that addiction can cause, children of addicts would never allow themselves to suffer the same fate as adults.
Unfortunately, though, the children of addicts are much more likely to become addicts themselves in later life. It may be that they have a number of genes that are activated by environment or stress, or perhaps it is that they have been brought up to believe that self-medicating with a specific substance or activity is the norm.
Traumatic experiences can cause individuals to seek out relief in many ways. Some will use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of suffering they previously experienced, while others will get wrapped up in activities such as gambling that make them feel happy – at least for a while.
The earlier a person begins gambling, the more likely it is that he or she will become addicted as an adult. Studies have found that the vast majority of addicts were first exposed to their vice at a very young age.
How a Gambling Addiction Can Develop in Secret
There are many consequences to a gambling addiction for the gambler and those around him or her. This addiction is difficult to spot as there are no obvious physical symptoms to look out for in the affected individual. This is why gambling addiction is often referred to as the ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ addiction. It is often the case that people get obsessed with gambling without their close family members realising what is happening until it is too late.
The internet seems to have exacerbated the issue of gambling addiction as it has made it much easier to gamble in secret. While many years ago those who wanted to gamble would have to make the effort of heading out of their house to a betting shop, casino, racetrack, or bingo hall, these days, they can quietly gamble from the comfort of their own living room, in their pyjamas or underwear if they so desired.
It is common for most people today to have a computer, laptop, or smartphone with access to the internet, and with so many gambling sites that offer free bets to those who open new accounts, it is no surprise that the problem is only getting worse. In recent years, more people have been tempted to gamble because of money issues caused by the global recession, and the promise of big wins by gaming sites hoping to lure people in.
What Makes Gambling Addiction So Devastating
Gambling addiction is like any other addiction in that it can utterly destroy the life of the affected individual. Nonetheless, a gambling addiction is said to be more destructive than any other to family members and others around the addict. The reason for this is that a gambling addiction requires constant access to funds.
Those who gamble require plenty of money to feed their habit. In the early days, this may mean spending a few pounds here and there because the person is still capable of exerting control over his or her betting habits. As time goes by though, the level of control diminishes and gambling starts to take over.
The gambler will start to gamble more often and for higher amounts of money, particularly if he or she has had a win. The person will convince him/herself that he/she is about to get that elusive ‘big win’ but will chase losses in an effort to claw back the inevitable lost money, which they think will solve all their problems.
As the addiction progresses, the affected individual starts to neglect responsibilities in their life in favour of gambling. The person may stay up late gambling into the night while their loved ones are sleeping, completely oblivious to what is going on.
Some problem gamblers will use life savings to gamble without their partner knowing. Others will take out loans and even remortgage their home, all the while carrying on as if nothing is happening. Others will borrow from loved ones and use the money to gamble because they have convinced themselves that they are going to win back all the money they have lost – and more. When this happens, as the thinking goes, the person will not have to worry any longer as he or she will no longer be in debt and everyone will be happy.
It is extremely rare for gamblers to have a happy ending, however. Even those who do have a big win will not stop gambling. Some will continue after their win due to a belief that they are going to win more. Before they know it, they have used up most of the money won before and are right back where they started once more. For them, it is not really a question of winning or losing; it is more about the thrill and anticipation of the bet, and they are completely powerless to resist.
Gambling addicts often end up on the verge of losing everything they once treasured. This includes their family, friends, jobs, finances, and even their homes. The hurt and betrayal that is felt by family members when they discover what their addicted loved one has been doing without their knowledge can destroy entire families.
The problem can get worse when family members find out what has been going on, particularly if the addict refuses to get professional help and promises his or her loved ones that their betting days are over. For most, a gambling addiction will not go away without help. Despite their promises, the affected individual will be unable to resist when the compulsion to gamble takes hold, and they will gamble again and again.
The heartache and suffering caused to loved ones by a family member with a gambling addiction can never be understated.
Can a Gambling Addiction be Treated?
The good news, though, is that a gambling addiction can be treated, just as any other addiction can. However, treatment for this type of addiction will only work if the addict wants to get better – and many are not ready to quit just yet because they actually do not believe they have a problem.
The person has convinced him/herself that he or she can stop any time they want, but they are not ready just yet. Until they are ready though, there is not much that family members can do. In some circumstances, it is only an ultimatum from a loved one that will force the gambler to take a step back and seek help.
Treatment for a gambling addiction will usually involve rehabilitation in an inpatient or outpatient clinic. Most experts agree that gambling addicts should consider inpatient clinics as these will be in a distraction-free environment for a period of up to eight weeks with no access to any gambling outlets. The affected person will need this time to tackle the issues that have caused the addiction as well as to learn ways to avoid a return to this activity going forward.
Staff at rehabilitation clinics tend to use a variety of techniques to help their patients overcome their addictions. These can include one-to-one counselling, group therapy, and motivational interviewing. Patients need these psychotherapeutic treatments to help replace maladaptive behaviours with positive behaviours.