Gambling is a diverse activity, so different types of gambling addiction exist as well. The act of gambling is not restricted to slot machines, cards, and casinos. Purchasing a lottery ticket, entering a raffle, or making a bet with a friend are also forms of gambling. Anything that involves risking money in the hope of a higher yield, without considering the negative consequences, is a form of gambling. When there is no guarantee of safe purchase, it is a gamble. It consists of making risky bets to experience the emotional high associated with taking huge risks that occasionally pay off.
Gambling addiction could occur when your loved one feels that they are in financial ruin. To solve their problems, it's natural for gamblers to gamble what little they have in an attempt to get a large sum of money. Unfortunately, this almost always leads to a cycle of pathological gambling, wherein the gambler feels they must win back their losses. It's an unmanageable cycle of loss and despair, and will continue till such times when your loved one is forced to seek rehabilitation to break their habit.
Other things which trigger compulsive gambling in your loved one could be unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. After a stressful day at work, after an argument with their spouse or coworker, or to avoid more time spent on their own, an evening at the casino may seem like a fun and exciting way to unwind. But, there are healthier and far less expensive ways to relax. These may include exercising, meditating, spending time with friends, taking up new hobbies, or exploring relaxation techniques.
In the middle of our cranium, a series of circuits known as the reward system links various scattered brain regions involved in memory, movement, pleasure, and motivation. When we engage in an activity that keeps us alive, neurons in the reward system squirt out a chemical messenger called dopamine, giving us a little wave of satisfaction.
Addictive processes keep the brain so awash in dopamine that it eventually adapts by producing less of the molecule and becoming less responsive to its effects. As a consequence, addicts build up a tolerance to the external stimulus (gambling in this case), needing larger and larger amounts of it to get high. In severe addiction, people also go through withdrawal—they feel physically ill, cannot sleep, and shake uncontrollably—if their brain is deprived of a dopamine-stimulating process for too long.
In short, the more an addict subjects himself to an addictive process, the harder it becomes to stop because natural pleasures have been replaced by the addiction. The natural joys you and I take for granted, no longer apply to your addicted loved one. He/she finds only one thing pleasurable, and that is the gambling addiction. Stopping that for the addicted loved one is not too different from ending joy altogether. Only with treatment, can your loved one re-learn how to enjoy life as it is.
What are the signs of an addict?
Unfortunately, once a gambling addiction takes hold, breaking the cycle is difficult. Of course, as with any other addiction, the hallmark sign of a gambling problem is that your loved one feels that they cannot stop. If they feel like they need to try just one more time, or if they feel anxious when they think about quitting, it is highly likely they are suffering from a gambling addiction.
■ They would usually have had at least one financial bailout from a friend, family member, maxed out credit cards, or taken out loans from a financial institution, unless they are affluent. Though there are some pathological gamblers who never have had a bailout.
■ There may be attempts to justify, rationalise, hide, and/or minimise their behaviour to others.
■ For them, winning means more time for gambling. Wins are usually "re-invested" into more gambling.
■ Wager size increases over time (measured usually in years).
■ Uses money to gamble that should otherwise be allocated/invested
■ Gambling does not have to be daily in order for it to be pathological.
■ Engages in "creative financing" by obtaining loans and credit.
■ May have burned out relationships due to gambling and borrowing.
■ May promise self or others to quit gambling after a large loss or win, resulting in never-ending broken promises.
■ Frequent fights with spouse/partner. The gambler will always blame their loved ones for their problems.
■ Feels excited when gambling or about to gamble. They might have a rush just walking into a gambling establishment.
■ Their solution to financial problems and stress created by gambling is to gamble more in order to finally hit a big win, or at least recover losses. Thus, the problem is also seen as the solution, a characteristic of addiction.
Many people who gamble excessively have mixed feelings about gambling. They know they are causing problems for the people they love. They may become anxious and unhappy, and often hate themselves for it. But the urge to gamble seems too great to resist. They feel they can’t give up on all the time, money, and emotion they have put into gambling. They can’t accept that they will never win back what they have lost. Some people still believe their luck will change or they are due to win. Others believe that continuing to gamble is the only way out of a situation they are ashamed about.
Other people promise to quit, but can’t. They fear their loved ones will find out. This drives them deeper into hiding, and further into debt. They keep hoping a big win will end their problems. Once in a while they may win, which keeps their hope alive until the losses mount up again. If they quit now, they will feel like a loser. They will have to face all the problems gambling has caused.
Winning, losing, and the arduous process of continuing to find ways to gamble can have a dramatic impact on one’s mental health. Pathological gambling can directly trigger or worsen symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, obsessions, and personality disorders.
If your loved one has been a patient of depression even before they turned into a compulsive gambler, they would feel that gambling serves as a form of self-medication. But, as they repeatedly keep losing their bets, symptoms of depression only get stronger and worse.
In addition to dramatically impacting depressive symptoms, pathological gambling has a direct effect on anxiety. Your loved one may feel increasing periods of tension before gambling that can only be relieved through gambling. They might undergo anticipatory anxiety that may be reported as either pleasurable, fearful, or unpleasant. Your loved one may also feel that gambling is a way of reducing generalized anxiety by providing an escape from reality and a temporary avoidance from life stress and responsibility.
In contrast, pathological gambling can have direct, anxiogenic consequences, especially seen with “chasing” behaviors. Chasing refers to a gambler who will repeatedly return to recoup losses, usually within the same day. Your loved one will show a desperate urgency to recover losses immediately; in not doing so results in him/her feeling intense anxiety, fear, and worry. In turn, this creates even more generalized anxiety, creating a cycle where your loved one is focused entirely on relieving this anxiety through more gambling.
An addict can be at different stages. In order to intervene, we need to understand where the
person is in their addictive journey. An addict will always be in a particular stage of change.
Knowing where they are gives us an opportunity to intervene correctly.
● Pre-Contemplation - I am not an addict - Most difficult to help this person.
● Contemplation - I might be an addict - The door is open for help.
● Preparation - I am an addict and I want to stop - Provide the help that is needed.
● Action - I am going to stop now - Need of a supportive and clinical environment.
● Maintenance - I am going to stay stopped - constant motivation and encouragement.
Mostly, if you have come searching for help and not your loved one who is suffering, they are in denial of their problem. You must be wondering how you would convince your loved one to come to us. At Solace Sabah, we can perform what we call an intervention. Professionals are trained to use motivational interviewing, giving the addicts the ability to reason their addiction themselves and prepare them for treatment and recovery.
To read more about denial and intervention at Solace Sabah, read this:
Your loved one may end up facing only three options if they are left untreated - death (suicide mainly, due to landing themselves in huge amounts of debt), jail, or being admitted to an institution (a rehab). The best option you can choose for your family member is an institution - a rehab!
At Solace Sabah, we teach your family member how they can live their lives without the help of artificial external stimulus such as gambling. Addiction is like a tree. At its root are all the issues that keep it alive from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, to low self esteem. Through our talk therapies and activities, we treat the addiction first. This is important as it forms a firm foundation for a life without gambling or one in recovery from addiction.
Once a firm period of abstinence from the gambling behaviour has been attained, clients can then look into the underlying causes for their illness. We provide a safe space for recovery because we can ensure your loved one's anonymity and confidentiality throughout the process of change. Trust is essential and we endeavour to keep it that way, by taking care of your loved one as they undergo treatment with us. Through this process, as long as they commit to the work given, will experience a change that will allow them to live freely from gambling, forever.