Gambling has been defined in a variety of ways but can be best described as “putting something of value at risk on an outcome that is due to chance.”
The majority of adults who gamble do so on a social basis and do not cause long-term or permanent problems related to gambling. This type of gambling, called social gambling, lasts for a limited amount of time, and there are predetermined acceptable losses. The social gambler will pack in his losses and be happy with meagre winnings, without a need to bet more.
The next level of gambling can be described as problem gambling. These people gamble despite problems in their lives caused by gambling. They may include gamblers who lose more money than intended, who spend a significant amount of time gambling, or who may choose gambling as their primary form of recreation, often at the expense of other alternative activities. This category is akin to alcohol abuse and is thought to represent gamblers who are at risk of becoming pathological gamblers.
The most destructive form of gambling is pathological gambling. This type of gambling, also known as compulsive gambling or disordered gambling, is a recognised mental disorder characterised by a pattern of continued gambling despite negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. It is a treatable disease and comes under the umbrella of addiction.
You may be a pathological gambler if you:
- Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won’t understand or hoping someday, that you will surprise them with a big win.
- Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
- Gamble even when you don’t have the money. A red flag is when you are getting more and more desperate to recoup your losses. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don’t have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money. It’s a vicious cycle. You may sincerely believe that gambling more money is the only way to win your lost money back. But it only puts you further and further in the hole.
Experts used to earlier think of addiction as dependency on a chemical or a drug, but they now define it as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions. That experience could be the high of cocaine or heroin; or the thrill of doubling one's money at the casino.
All our brains follow a reward system. This system runs on a chemical called dopamine, which releases happiness. Dopamine is usually produced to motivate people to do things to survive. In this case, to make money. Making money is a survival skill because we need money to live in our economy. Thus, gambling is addictive because it produces dopamine as a result of anticipating the money-making process.
This produces pleasure in the brain, making you attain a “high”. Gambling helps you reach this state. Gamblers turn to their gambling to overcome life's struggles and pain. As an example, struggling with one's finances may cause one to become depressed. To cover up the pain of suffering depression, the person in question might gamble money to make up for losses. Eventually, as the depression is not addressed, the gambling gets worse over time.
Apart from the desire to experience thrills and highs, many other factors can contribute to your gambling addiction, such as desperation for money, the social status associated with being a successful gambler, and the entertaining atmosphere of the mainstream gambling scene. Unfortunately, once a gambling addiction takes hold, breaking the cycle is difficult if not impossible, unless you seek help for it.
Gambling addiction frequently results in other addictions that serve as coping mechanisms for people who are stressed out by the activity. You may turn to drugs, alcohol, and other activities to alleviate the anxiety brought on by the gambling lifestyle. Even if you never experience financial ruin as a result of your lifestyle, you may struggle with drug and alcohol addiction as a result of having to deal with the stress gambling addiction has caused.
Winning, losing, and the arduous process of continuing to find ways to gamble can have a dramatic impact on your mental health. Pathological gambling can directly trigger or worsen symptoms of depression, generalised anxiety, obsessions, and personality disorders.
If you have suffered from depression before you turned into a compulsive gambler, you are probably using the gambling behaviour for self-medication. But then as you start repeatedly losing your bets, symptoms of the depression only get stronger and worse.
In addition to dramatically impacting depression, pathological gambling has a direct effect on anxiety. You may feel increasing periods of tension before gambling that can only be relieved through gambling. You might undergo anticipatory anxiety that may be reported as either pleasurable, fearful, or unpleasant. You may also feel that gambling is a way of reducing generalised anxiety by providing an escape from reality and a temporary avoidance from life stress and responsibility.
In contrast, pathological gambling can have direct, anxiogenic (anxiety-causing) consequences. This can especially be seen with “chasing” behaviours. Chasing refers to a gambler who will repeatedly return to recoup losses, usually within the same day. You will show a desperate urgency to recover losses immediately; in failing to do so, will result in intense anxiety, fear, and worry. In turn, this creates even more generalised anxiety, creating a cycle where you are focused entirely on relieving this anxiety through more gambling.
Financial losses and accumulating debt are the most obvious and visible consequences of pathological gambling. Unlike other addictive disorders, pathological gambling can devastate your financial portfolio in a matter of hours. You might end up losing your entire life savings in a single gambling session.
As a pathological gambler, you will spend large amounts of time gambling, thinking about gambling, or covering up the consequences of gambling. Lost productivity at work will lead to lost opportunities to advance. This will leave you in dire straits, making it harder to secure future employment because of the damage sustained by prior gambling problems.
Legal consequences of pathological gambling usually arise after the onset of financial problems. Researchers have estimated that close to 30 to 40 percent of many of the white-collar crimes are somehow tied to pathological gambling. Compulsive gamblers have been known to resort to stealing, prostitution, embezzlement, insurance fraud, and the use of loan sharks to finance ongoing gambling. In a survey of Gambler's Anonymous, nearly 57 percent admitted to stealing in order to finance gambling.
There are only three options you will end up with if you are addicted to gambling but are unwilling to do anything about it: death (suicide mainly, due to landing yourself in huge amounts of debt), jail, or being admitted to an institution (a rehab in this case).
You would perhaps say that coming to us is equivalent to going to jail. But at Solace Sabah, we treat you, not punish you. We teach you to derive pleasure out of the simple things in life and not obtain pleasure from compulsive gambling. We stabilise the reward system of your brain and make you realise that you don’t need an artificial external stimulus such as gambling to be happy. To achieve this, we heal you from your pleasure dysfunction.
Addicts have a disease of pleasure. You have lost the natural ability to feel pleasure in life. The gambling has hijacked your brain's reward circuit. It's not your fault that you are this way. Everything you did in active addiction was a result of suffering from a pleasure disorder.
In rehab, we will treat you as a patient, not a criminal because as with every illness, you deserve treatment, not punishment. At Solace Sabah, our program of recovery consists of fun, sober activities that will enable you to enjoy life. We practice fun - we will take you to meet your inner child, send you sailing, flying, and rock climbing. We will find you a sport or hobby that you enjoy, which will help return your pleasure system to function normally much in the same manner that physical rehabilitation returns speech and movement in stroke patients. We will not only help you arrest your addiction, but use various therapies from psychology to the arts to awaken you to yourself. As Shakespeare said: To thine own self, be true!