Although millions of people across the world manage to gamble responsibly, there are unfortunately many people as well who are dealing with a gambling addiction. If you think you can no longer control your spending while gambling and your private life is suffering because of it, you are strongly advised to seek help. In this article, we like to give some advice where you can seek such help and how to prevent a gambling addiction in the first place.
Like any other addiction (smoking, alcohol, drugs), a gambling addiction can be difficult to control. If unchecked, it can be harmful for not only the affected person, but also for family members and close friends.
Addicted gamblers, also called problem gamblers, can develop an incredible urge gamble. When losing money, they feel the need to try to undo those losses by gambling even more money. Money they cannot actually afford to lose. Of course, this can have dire effects on a person’s life. Entire savings might be gambled away, bills are left unpaid and friends and families might be alienated because of it.
Regrettably, some people are unfortunately susceptible to addictions. It’s just the way how the human mind and body are programmed. It can happen to literally anyone. Gambling addiction happens to both men and women, to the highly educated and blue collar workers, to young and old, to unhappy loners as well as to people in the middle of society with an active social life. Addictions can happen regardless of gender, class, age or ethnicity.
If you think you are a problematic gambler there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are not the only person in such a situation – and it is never too late to seek help.
What is a gambling addiction?
What is actually meant by an addiction? While most people can easily understand an alcohol or drugs addiction as it has much more of a physical aspect to it (as in: people have to drink booze or take drugs) – a gambling addiction is at times less well understood by the general public.
This is unfortunate, as gambling can certainly be as addictive as smoking or alcohol. The reason people become addicted to gambling is due to a chemical released in the brain: dopamine.
Dopamine is an organic chemical which is automatically released when you feel some kind of pleasure, or to be more precise, when you feel motivational prominence or a stimulation reward. Basically it is some kind of reward system to make you feel good. To translate it to the world of gambling, dopamine is released when a player frantically plays his or her favourite casino game to chase some winnings. When gamblers win something, it makes the player feel good and encourages them to participate again in this activity.
Some people are more prone than others to gambling addiction. This is because each person has their own brain reward system where the prefrontal cortex may or may not be activated when winning money while playing casino games. Some people have an increasing need for more rewards in order to feel satisfied, in a similar way as a problem drinker who needs his booze to get his temporary kicks.
It is possible that a player starts gambling compulsively in order to be rewarded again and that some kind of “tolerance” is developing for these rewards. These players want to experience the reward of gambling and winning again, but it has less effect on their brains over time. The player’s reward response is basically decreasing, which can mean that some players have to gamble more or have to wage higher amounts of money in order to get the same kick (and thus dopamine).
How can you overcome a gambling addiction?
The good news is that it is possible for people to overcome their gambling addiction – if they acknowledge their problem and seek the right help. It may be difficult to completely eliminate one’s urge to gamble because it is genetically determined whether someone is sensitive to it. However, it is possible for a gambler to change his or her behaviour to be able to control their urge.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Take cognitive behavioural therapy as an example. This therapy tries to identify a gambling addict’s thought process and feelings when they win money. It also looks at the misconceptions some players have. One major example are the players who keep on playing despite having lost vast sums of money as they wrongly think that after a series of losses they should for sure win back a big amount sooner than later. Called the gambler’s fallacy, this is an erroneous belief in which gamblers think that past events (gambling results) are connected to future results, while in reality you always have the same chance of winning with every bet you make on the blackjack or roulette table, or with every spin you make on a video slot.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can help players uncover and modify destructive thinking processes. This therapy has been proven to have an effect on a variety of problems and can completely change the way people think.
Group therapy – or individual therapy – is a good way to identify what is causing the urge for some persons to gamble and what exactly is causing their gambling addiction. By communicating about the problem with other people, gambling addicts are able to discuss their problem with others, see other persons’ perspectives and discover similarities and differences. This will help them understand that the reward they are getting from their problematic gambling behaviour is not as great as they actually think.
Addictions can be seen as a disease and it helps these patients to open up more to their problems and see everything in a new perspective.
How to get help
There are many organizations that are committed to helping gambling addicts overcome their addiction. These organisations like GamCare, and BeGambleAware are a great first place to search for information and get help. They have informative website where you can find tons of useful articles about gambling addiction. Besides that, these organisations have special support pages which will tell you how you can get confidential help for your gambling problem. Some organizations can be contacted anonymously for help by telephone as well.
If your native language is not English, you could always Google gambling addiction in your own language to find out what the national aid organisations are in your country.
Another great step you can take is simply talking with your own GP or another doctor. They are aware of the psychological causes of an addiction and will always be able to help you find professional aid.
Last but not least, if you think your gambling is getting out of hand, we recommend you to contact the online casino where you play. Fully licenced online casinos have to adhere to national gambling laws, which means they must make a concerted effort to combat gambling addiction. Reputable online casinos will always be able to forward you to aid organisations as well. Besides that, they can also block you from playing and impose limits on your account, which could be a helpful first step to prevent you from waging too much money.
Preventing a gambling addiction
It is, of course, better to avoid becoming a problem gambler altogether. While sometimes addictions are difficult or impossible to prevent, there are certainly ways how you can better protect yourself from becoming a problem gambler.
The most important piece of advice for any gambler is to make yourself a budget. This gambling budget should take into account how much you can spend, and how much you are willing to spend during a day/week/month of gambling. First of all, money you will spend on gambling should never come at a cost of everyday expenses/your livelihood. Second, if you determined a budget (let’s say you want to spend a maximum of 100 euro per month at online casinos), then you should strictly adhere to this. Make sure that you never go over this amount! Realise that if you spent the full 100 euro in your first week of gambling, it should mean that for the next weeks until the end of the month you shouldn’t gamble anymore. Also never assume that you will make a profit when gambling. Remember the most important casino fact: the house will always win in the end. Although a short-term profit is possible, it is impossible to beat the casino in the long run.
At most online casinos, you can set account limits on how much money you are allowed to wage or to deposit. Set the maximum amount of money you want to deposit per week and when you have reached this limit the online casino will no longer allow deposits until the week is over.
A gambling addiction cannot simply be remedied unless you are aware of your problems and really want to stop gambling. It’s good to let a loved one know you have an addiction in order to get more support.
It’s also important to get professional help. There are plenty of national and international gambling addiction aid organisation which offer help in strict confidential manner. Talking to your GP and contacting the online casino are also good options.
Like all other addictions, gambling addiction is a disease and the urge to gamble may never go away. However, by seeking professional help and recognising your problem, it is much easier to overcome gambling addiction.
To prevent a gambling addiction, we really urge any casino player to set their own limits and to make a budget to which you should strictly adhere. Never assume that you can undo losses and that one day you will win the jackpot!