For most people, gambling is simply a way to make sporting events more interesting, or a part of an annual trip to Las Vegas. However, for some, gambling can be a dangerous addiction that ruins marriages, ends careers, and can result in bankruptcy and even suicide. Gambling addictions have become so prevalent that the American Psychiatric Association now identifies “gambling addiction” as a psychiatric disorder afflicting one to three percent of American adults. With the growing popularity of online gambling sites, these estimates may continue to rise.
So what is the allure of online gambling? Well, the most obvious answer is convenience. Gamblers no longer need to travel to Vegas or Atlantic City, as the Internet provides access to gambling 24 hours a day, seven days a week with complete anonymity. Further, online gambling occurs without the actual or immediate exchange of money. It’s easy for participants to loose site of the fact that they are actually playing for real cash! Other attractions include the ease with which people can set up accounts and the escape associated with spending hours playing games online.
So when does an interest in gambling reach the point of addiction? There are generally three criteria used to diagnose an addiction of any kind. First and foremost is that the word “addiction” implies a loss of behavioral control. Those who are addicted simply cannot control their gambling. What may have started as a quick game of poker may turn into an all day – all night gambling bender. Second, addicted gamblers often develop a “tolerance” to gambling in the same way an alcoholic becomes increasingly tolerant to alcohol. Addicted gamblers will require higher and higher stakes in order to get the high that they desire. Finally, the extent to which a behavior interferes with one’s functioning is often used as criteria for diagnosing addiction. In the case of an addicted gambler, he or she may empty bank accounts, sell valued heirlooms, or build up massive amounts of dept. In extreme cases, an addicted gambler may steal from friends and family members to finance their addiction or even become clinically depressed following a devastating loss.
So how do you know if you have a gambling problem? Gambling anonymous suggests asking yourself questions such as these:
1. Have you repeatedly missed work or school because of gambling?
2. Have you ever felt guilty as result of your gambling?
3. Have you ever gambled in order to acquire money for bills or debts?
4. Have you ever gambled until you were completely out of money?
5. Have you ever gambled for longer periods than you had planned?
6. Have you ever gambled with more money than you had originally planned?
7. Have you ever considered suicide because of gambling?
This list is not exhaustive, but if you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you may wish to speak with a professional counselor about your gambling.
Thankfully, a variety of resources exist to help those suffering from a gambling addiction. Twelve step programs such as those used in alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous exist for those whose gambling has gotten out of control. Further, support groups such as Gam-Anon are easily accessible and are designed to assist those with a family member suffering from a gambling addiction.