There’s been a lot of talk about gambling addiction in recent years. The sort of talk that can have you second-guessing your gambling habits, “Do I have a gambling addiction? No, surely not…but…I did lose more than I wanted on the [insert your game of choice]”
Sound familiar? Then you should find this article useful. Here, we explore 9 questions that will help you work out if your gambling habits are getting out of hand.
If you feel your habit is moving towards addiction, don’t worry too much because there’s plenty of help available. Follow this link for help and advice from our in-house writer, or follow this link to BeGambleAware for third-party help and advice.
First, let’s look at some key questions that can help you determine if your gambling habit is slipping into addiction.
Are you preoccupied or obsessed with gambling?
Preoccupation and obsession with your vice is a sure sign that your habit’s becoming (or has already become) a problem. If you’re spending a lot of time thinking about gambling – whether it’s simply the excitement of playing or worry about spiralling debts – it’s a bad sign.
There’s very little reason to be thinking about gambling when you’re not actually playing.
Do you miss gambling when you’re doing something else?
This is similar to the previous point but goes a bit deeper. Not only do you think about gambling, but you miss it when you’re not playing, and this puts you in a bad mood (anxiety, irritability, depression, anger, etc.,).
These are psychological withdrawal symptoms. Feeling anxious and irritable when your not gambling tells me you’re experiencing withdrawal. A lot of people don’t realise that it can happen with gambling habits because there’s no chemical addiction, but it can.
Have you developed a tolerance towards gambling?
Did your gambling habit start with a little flutter here, a few spins there, but as time goes on, you need to gamble for longer, or for higher amounts, because you just don’t feel the same buzz anymore?
That’s your brain adjusting to the pleasure. As it gets used to one level of happiness, it needs more stimulation to become happy. It’s a common feature of any addiction – all of the things mentioned in this article are; you’ll find that all addictions follow similar patterns.
Have you ever tried quitting but had no luck?
Have you ever tried to stop gambling but find that you go back to it anyway, almost automatically? The buzz and excitement of it just feel too alluring.
You can’t stop even when you try, and you don’t know why it’s so difficult to quit. After all, it’s not like drug dependency, where chemicals keep you hooked. How can something like gambling keep you addicted?
Even though you’re not introducing any chemicals into your body by gambling, you are affecting the chemicals in your brain nonetheless. Key neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, keep you from quitting.
Have you lost interest in other life activities, such as hobbies?
Are you neglecting your hobbies in favour of gambling? You used to love going to the gym, stamp collecting, or playing D&D, but now, all you want to do is to gamble. Maybe you’ve reached a point where you’re neglecting your family life or social life so you can go to the corner shop and buy a pile of lottery tickets?
That is bad news and your gambling habits are out of control.
Are you aware of the negative effect gambling’s having on your life, but continue to do it anyway?
A lot of people assume that addicts are unaware of the impact their addiction is having on their lives. After all, if a person knows they’re screwing their life up, why don’t they…you know…just stop?!
Well, it’s not that easy. Not that easy at all. You know what is easy? Taking the moral high-ground when you don’t understand a problem and don’t experience it yourself.
You can be perfectly aware that you’re leaving a trail of destruction behind you (falling our with friends and family, racking up bills, you’re neglecting your hygiene) and still not be able to stop. It’s impacting everyone around you, but you plough on anyway.
Yes, your gambling habits are out of control by this point and you need help (see links at the bottom of the page).
Is lying becoming your new mode of communication?
Your friend asks you what you did today, you shrug and just say “Worked”, but you know you’ve spent the morning spinning reels, updating your sports-tracking excel files, playing cards, etc.,
There’s a bit of shame hiding in your lie – you know that sports betting and poker playing can be lucrative, but if you were being successful and not compulsive, you’d find no reason to lie.
Does gambling help ease your negative emotions?
Maybe you’re feeling anxious today, or perhaps you feel the inappropriate guilt of depression? If you turn to gambling as a way to soothe your battered emotions, it could well be acting as a security blanket, protecting you from emotions you don’t want to feel by taking your mind away to some other place…for a while…
…as soon as you stop gambling, the emotions return, and then some. How do you stem the flow of emotions? You gamble again. Before you know it, you’re in a negative cycle and it’s spiralling out of control.
Have you missed out on relationships and opportunities so that you can gamble?
Did you pass up a night out with friends so that you could gamble? Perhaps you turned down a job interview because you wanted to play in a poker tournament? I don’t know, but as a one-off event, e.g., you’re a contender in the World Series of Poker, it might be worth it, but if it’s happening more and more often, you should be hearing alarm bells.
What to do next?
If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to seek advice. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a problem, but it can indicate that you’re heading that way.
The first thing you should do is speak to someone who can help. We’re lucky in the UK because we get a lot of help for gambling addiction. You can visit your GP and ask for help and advice. Alternatively, GamCare has an excellent range of resources that are free to use – we wrote an article about their Safer Gambling Week, which you might also find useful.