‘Michael’ is a former student who decided to gamble with some of the funds from his student loans, only to eventually lose it all. The anonymous student was recently profiled in a Guardian story about the rising problem of student’s gambling away loan money. Like so many others, Michael started out on a hot streak but did not have enough sense to stop. A few hundred pounds in winnings encouraged him to keep gambling until there was nothing left to bet. The Guardian explains that he lost £8,000 in a single hour.

In Michael’s case, his problem was made that much worse by the fact that he could freely gamble online and in the privacy of his own home. He did not necessarily need to go to a casino or racetrack in order to lose his money. The anonymity of gambling online makes it even easier for problem gamblers. In Michael’s case, it was perfect recipe of easy access, privacy and a lot of cash to play with.

At the core of the problem is the fact that student loans are paid out in lump sums of cash. It is not as though lenders write cheques directly to universities and landlords; they don’t. They treat the students as the adults they are, giving them the money and expecting them to use it responsibly. Nevertheless, for someone predisposed to gambling, having so much money in hand can be too tempting to resist.

Gambling Can Be Addictive

We tend think of addiction only within the framework of alcohol or drugs. Moreover, while the lion’s share of addictions is substance related, there are a number of clinically recognised behavioural addictions as well. Guess what behaviour is among them? Compulsive gambling.

Indeed, gambling can be just as addictive as any substance you would drink, snort, or smoke. The behaviour of gambling can trigger the same chemical responses in the brain that lead to compulsiveness and the irrationality. The only difference with gambling is that addicts are paying to pursue an activity rather than purchase a substance.

Problem gambling begins with just a single bet or two. A person may bet on a local football game or play video slots online. For most of us, doing so occasionally is not a problem at all. However, for the problem gambler, that first wager starts him or her down a path with potentially devastating consequences.

The pleasure derived from gambling relates to a chemical in the brain known as dopamine. The release of dopamine causes feelings of pleasure, acting as a reward for certain types of behaviours. It is also dopamine that can encourage a potentially compulsive gambler to continue betting. With every session, more dopamine is necessary to achieve the same pleasurable effects, leading the individual to gamble even more.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

A gambling addiction may not be readily apparent to anyone other than the individual’s closest friends and relatives. Unfortunately, it is an addiction that is easy to cover up. If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, here are some of the primary signs of gambling addiction:

  • being secretive about gambling activities
  • an inability to control the desire to gamble
  • gambling even when there’s no money to do so
  • setting aside work and other responsibilities in order to gamble
  • family and friends warning the individual about his or her gambling habits. 

The good news about gambling addiction is that it is treatable. Through a series of treatments and 12-step work, an individual can overcome his or her addiction and go on to lead a normal life. Inform yourself about children and students with addictions in our student addiction guide.

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