Symptoms of Gambling Addiction and how to Avoid This Disease
Do you like to pick up a couple scratch-offs while you’re in the store or maybe buy a weekly lottery ticket? Or maybe you like to take gambling cruises or go to Vegas. Regardless of what your gambling pleasure is, be careful that it doesn’t become an addiction.
Many people tuck gambling addiction into a separate category from drug or alcohol addiction or other mental illnesses, but it’s a disease that destroys millions of lives every year. As with all addictions, it doesn’t happen overnight. It starts small. With a lottery ticket here and there, or a friendly, fun trip to a casino. Then it builds and builds until you’re no longer controlling your gambling habit—it’s controlling you.
As with all addictions, gambling addicts will steal to pay for their addictions. They’ll lie, they’ll make horrible judgement calls such as using their bill money to gamble, and they’ll destroy not just their own lives, but also the lives of those who are dependent on them.
Gambling addiction is a disease. Period.
Some Statistics about Gambling Addiction
• A person who has another addiction, such as drugs or alcohol, is 23 times more likely to develop a gambling addiction
• College kids are twice as likely to develop a gambling addiction as any other demographic. It’s estimated that roughly 7 percent of American college students have a gambling addiction
• About 3-5 percent of all gamblers struggle with a gambling addiction
• About half of all gambling addicts will commit a crime to feed their habit
Gambling and the Brain
When we first started studying addiction back in the 30s, researchers believed it was behavioral. Addicts were flawed somehow, either morally or they just lacked will power. The way to solve the problem was to punish addicts to make them break the habit. This wasn’t just for gambling; it was for all types of addiction.
However, we know now that addiction is an actual disease. It changes the actual structure of the brain and affects how it functions the same way that cardiovascular disease damages the heart.
The term addiction comes from a Latin term that means enslaved, hijacked, or bound to, and that’s accurate. Gambling quite literally hijacks the brain. It’s not enough to “just say no” as the movement in the 1980s went.
Just as with any other addiction, breaking a gambling addiction requires multiple strategies, and even then, it’s a vicious addiction to break. Of course, all addictions are. The easiest way to break a gambling addiction is to avoid it to begin with.
How Addiction Develops
Nobody takes their first drink or pops their first pill or buys their first lottery ticket with the plan to become an addict. If so, it’s safe to assume that there would be astronomically fewer addicts of anything in the world.
First, you should know that there is a genetic predisposition to addiction. Studies show that 40-60 percent of a person’s susceptibility to addiction is hereditary, according to Harvard Health. But behavior plays a huge role, too. And that’s where you have the most control.
No, addiction starts small. It starts in a section of the brain that registers pleasure. It’s almost like the principle of positive reinforcement on overdrive. You know the cookie is going to be delicious because you already ate one, so you will perform a behavior that causes you to get another cookie. Or another dollar.
When you scratch off that lottery ticket or pull the arm on the machine and it wins, you’re getting your cookie. Your brain registers pleasure, and you want to do it again. This happens in the cerebral cortex. You win a little, and your brain releases dopamine, and then your body wants more dopamine because it feels good, so you buy another ticket.
Since you’ve already experienced the pleasure kick from the first win, you’ll work harder—buy more tickets or spend more money—to feel that way again. Now the addiction has started. You’ve fed the beast. That’s okay though. You can still pull back. Stop now. Just say no, because you still have that ability. Right now, you just like the feeling. You don’t need it yet.
Stop now though, because it won’t be long before your brain is hijacked.
You may see that there are both behavioral and chemical components at work here. You’re committing acts that bring about pleasure. In effect, you’re training yourself to be an addict though that’s most surely not your intent. Nonetheless, you are.
Now, the more you repeat this behavior and the more pleasure you derive from it, the more you’re going to want to do it. So you’ve gone from just liking to grab a ticket when you pick up milk to wanting to stop at the store just to buy one.
But, what if you keep losing?
The Gambler’s Fallacy
This is where something called the gambler’s fallacy comes into play. You’ve bought five winning lottery tickets in a row. You’ve lost twenty dollars in the machine after playing ten times. Surely you’re due to win, right? That’s the idea that pulls you in deeper. It makes you buy another ticket, or insert another five.
But it’s wrong, at least in games of pure chance such as roulette. The gambler’s fallacy seems logical. After all, you can only lose so many times before you win, right? Wrong. Statistically, if you’ve lost five times, your odds of losing again actually increase rather than decrease. It sounds backwards, but if you do that math, it’s right.
This becomes a bit convoluted when applied to lottery tickets and the like because there are guaranteed winners. That means that somebody has to win, which brings the drive for that big bang of pleasure right back to the forefront. This is perhaps why lottery addiction is such a huge problem among people who wouldn’t ordinarily gamble.
Every week, it’s a given that somebody’s going to win big. And if not that week, then the following week. The longer the pot goes without a winner, the bigger the reward becomes, but eventually somebody will win it. And people will spend their grocery money to try to be that person.
Once your eye is firmly glued to the prize, you’re hooked.
The gambler’s fallacy is probably most dangerous to those who have the most to lose. When you’ve lost your mortgage payment, you become desperate. So you toss the watch your grandfather gave you onto the table to try to win back your mortgage. Then you lose grandfather’s watch and your desperation builds. Up goes the title to your car or the deed to your house.
This may sound drastic or exaggerated, but it’s a terrifyingly real situation that occurs somewhere on a daily basis. In the span of just a few minutes, somebody loses everything. Then relationships, if any remain, are further damaged or destroyed, and the brain is still signaling for that pleasure release.
The National Council on Problem gambling reports that the annual cost of gambling addiction is about $17 billion. That’s right—with a B. That includes the actual gambling as well as costs associated with it such as bankruptcy, legal fees for crimes, and treatment.
And yet it’s legal.
Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
• Continuing to gamble because you’ve fallen victim to the gambler’s fallacy, or just because you can’t quit
• Intense guilt or remorse after gambling
• Gambling to escape those feelings of guilt or to recoup your losses
• Reliving wins to try to recover that rush
• Thinking about gambling when you’re doing other activities
• Skipping out on other pleasurable activities so that you can gamble
• Lying about how much you’re spending or what you’re doing
• Borrowing money to gamble more
How to Avoid Becoming a Gambling Addict
Ah, the meat and potatoes of the matter. There are steps you can take to avoid becoming an addict, but if you choose to gamble at all, you’re drastically increasing your odds of becoming addicted.
• Don’t start gambling to begin with if you have a family or personal history of addiction
• If you begin to want to gamble—that is, you feel compelled to stop at the store for a ticket, or put another five-dollar bill into the machine, stop. Your brain is already training itself to crave the rush.
• If you experience the urge to spend money that is otherwise allocated, even just once, don’t do it. You’re opening yourself up to desperation that no good will come of.
• If at any time you feel anything other than, “Hey, I’ve got an extra $5, and a few minutes to kill so I’ll buy a ticket or put it in the machine, then go,” then don’t do it. Your habit is ruling you at that point.
As you may have noticed, the best way to avoid becoming a gambling addict is to not gamble.
What if You Become Addicted?
Addiction is tough, especially if you’ve been addicted for a long time. But even if you’re a new addict, it won’t be easy. And you need to understand that, just like any other type of alcoholic, you have to be a tee-totaller. No more gambling because your brain is no longer wired the way a non-addict’s is.
Here are some methods you may find helpful in your journey to recovery:
• Meditation. Meditation releases the same happy chemicals in your brain that gambling does, except you’re not going to lose your house by doing it. It’s also great for helping with the stress and depression that will likely accompany your struggle.
• Practice breathing exercises both to relieve anxiety and if the urge becomes overwhelming.
• Change your thoughts and think about something else. Think about other positive things you can do with that money—you can buy food, or take your significant other out for ice cream or dinner. Whatever other non-addictive activity that you can enjoy is what you should focus on.
• Find a gambler’s anonymous group. You’re not alone; as a matter of fact, you’ll likely be surprised to find just how not alone you really are. Gambling addiction is a huge problem in our country.
• Seek a therapist. Addiction required modifying your behavior. A therapist can help you find ways to replace your addiction with healthful habits.
If you suffer from a gambling addiction, make the conscious decision to stop now. Whether you’ve just transitioned from liking to wanting, or have lost everything, it’s not too late to regain control of your life, and you deserve to be healthy and happy.
If you’ve struggled with gambling, please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Author: Theresa Crouse
Această operă este pusă la dispoziţie sub Licenţa Creative Commons Atribuire-Necomercial-FărăDerivate 4.0 Internațional .