Q&A: Gambling Problems & Addiction


According to the NHS there may be as many as 593,000 problem gamblers in the UK. Sufferers of gambling addiction find it extremely hard to control their urge to gamble, even when they are aware of the consequences.


What’s The Cause Of Gambling Addiction?

Studies have shown that you are more likely to develop a problem if you have a family history of problem gambling and if you started gambling at an early age. But it is not possible to determine the exact cause and effect. It can brought on at any age, to males or females, and to people from any ethnic background. This is further complicated by the fact that problem gambling is rarely found in isolation; sufferers often experience other problems, such as alcohol or drug addiction. This is known as co-morbidity.

Genetic studies support the notion that people may be genetically predisposed to develop impulsivity or addictive disorders. But it’s likely that developing a gambling problem is more due to the interaction of various biological, psychological and social factors.


What Makes People Keep On Gambling?

We are encouraged to gamble. It’s constantly advertised on the TV, the radio, newspapers, plastered all over advertising boards at sporting events. It’s physically present on almost any high street in the UK no matter how affluent or poor the area is. The Internet in particular makes gambling so easily accessible, and placing bets in the comfort and privacy of our own homes couldn’t be easier. Gamblers with an addictive personality are presented with so many avenues to bet more often than they ought to, and this sometimes leads to what is known as “problem gambling”.

Some gamblers experience the feeling that they are tantalisingly close to the ‘big win’, which causes them to continue gambling. Realistically, if you continue to place bets then you are eventually going to select a winner. But its the interim period and the losses which run some gamblers into the ground, especially if they have been betting well beyond their means. For others, that big win comes just in time but it only serves to fuel their desire for more gambling, leaving the individual feeling trapped into a behaviour with no way out. 

A misconception about gambling is that people can only become addicted to a substance and not an activity. A gambling addict does not experience the side effects linked to taking a substance, and thus they are not always seen as true addicts. But when people gamble they experience very similar chemical changes in the brain that occur when certain recreational drugs are taken. The activity of gambling triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This makes a person feel alert, powerful and happy, creating a natural ‘high’. As a result, dopamine fuels an addiction — whether it is drug, alcohol or gambling related — because people crave the high it brings.  


How Long Does It Take To Become Addicted?

A gambling addiction normally develops slowly and steadily, and there may be underlying reasons as to why some are more susceptible than others. It’s a form of impulse-control disorder and it affects different people to varying severity. Although some people with gambling addiction think they can stop when and if they want to, they often require professional support to help them overcome their negative habits and to build a healthier lifestyle with better choices.]


How Do You Define Gambling Addiction? When Is It A Problem?

Addiction is defined by the severity of the problem rather than the frequency of it. It’s the drive to gamble — the compulsion to put the habit before important everyday activities and relationships — that puts a person in the ‘problem’ group, regardless if they gamble once a week or once a month. Under this model people who gamble infrequently, or those who gamble without losing money they can’t afford to, are not considered addicts.

Its interesting that two people can be gambling with the same frequency, the same stakes, losing the same amount of money but the consequences are can be so much more severe for one person than the other.


How Can You Tell If Someone Is An Addict?

People with a severe gambling addiction are normally under a lot of stress (worrying about money) and may experience depression and anxiety. They may also face difficulties in their working life.

Unlike other addictions such as alcohol or drug addiction, compulsive gamblers will not have easily visible physical effects. This means you are unlikely to know someone has a gambling problem unless they tell you. Unfortunately, rather than confront their problem many people who compulsively gamble will go to great lengths to hide it.

Failing to recognise and get help for a gambling problem can cause a lot of disruption and harm to the lives of the gambler and those around them.


What Can Be Done To Help?

The NHS recommends the following organisations to seek help from:

GamCare is the leading national provider of information, advice, support and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Get help and support if you’re affected by someone else’s gambling problem, including how to recognise the signs and where to find your nearest meeting.

I would also recommend:

An organisation aiming to promote responsibility in gambling, providing information to help people make informed decisions about their gambling.


Further Reading:

Would You Know If You Had A Gambling Problem?

Toby @ Punter2Pro
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