How to know if I am addicted?
Whilst we love to bet, sometimes it’s a wise choice to stop betting for a while, week-long to month breaks can give us some rest and a better perspective of what we’re trying to achieve by sports betting.
But sometimes it isn’t easy to stop gambling when you know you want to, in fact, most people will start experiencing enduring urges to gamble even when they’re on the brink of financial disaster in the hope they can turn their situation around.
Urges are a part of the process of quitting. Urges will come and go even weeks into your breaks – and there will likely be times when they are hard to ignore and block out from your mind, especially when there are bookmakers in towns every time you go shopping or the temptation to bet when you are watching the footy.
If you anticipate these urges and have a response already prepared you can work through them because betting should stop when the fun stops!
You gamble more than you can afford to lose
A casual gambler may spend some of their extra money on gambling activities. But when their losses are more than they’re willing to spend, they stop. Pathological gambling is characterized by the inability to control or stop gambling and their gambling will continue even after losing more money than the gambler can afford. These gambling losses can put the gambler into debt or risk assets like the gambler’s car or home.
And the losses go much deeper than simply being broke from gambling.
Gambling addiction often takes tremendous amounts of time, and as the gambler spends increasing amounts of time at it, other activities suffer. They neglect relationships, family and home responsibilities. They often miss work. They neglect meetings and other important obligations. Or, they may gamble while they are at work, or when they should be sleeping or interacting with their family. The results can be more than they can afford:
- Relationship stress: this is especially a problem when the spouse finds out about the monetary losses
- Job loss: Due to decreased performance or gambling at work
- Arrest and criminal charges: for illegal activities used to finance the gambling
- Physical health problems: lack of sleep or self-care
Despite the losses accumulated, compulsive gambling continues until the addict is able to admit the problem and accept help.
Do you lie about your gambling habits?
Lying to hide an addiction is a core symptom of addiction of any kind, and gambling is no exception. The obsession and compulsion to gamble is so strong that the person will go to any lengths to place their next bet, and this usually includes lying to cover up where they are, what they are doing and what happened to their money, even to their closest friends and family.
Pathological gamblers even lie to themselves all the time. There is a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance. When individuals who are behaving in a way that is not consistent with their values or beliefs about how they should behave, it creates psychological discomfort – cognitive dissonance. In order to reduce this psychological discomfort, the logical thing to do would be to stop the “bad” behaviour – the gambling and associated behaviours. However, addiction is not a logical thing, it is emotional and when you’ve invested emotionally into betting, it is very hard to stop chasing your losses.
Someone with a gambling addiction will instead start lying to themselves, rationalizing their behaviours, even if the reasons they use are false or don’t make sense. This is a natural psychological process to reduce the psychological discomfort from the cognitive dissonance. In other words, problem gamblers lie to themselves.
A gambling addict is not fundamentally a liar, but the lying that accompanies a gambling addiction is part of the psychology and behaviours of their addiction.
Gambling negatively affects your emotions
Like other forms of process addiction, compulsive gambling is a dysfunctional coping mechanism, used to mask negative emotions and to distract and escape from life’s stressors and problems. Even if someone is using gambling to avoid their emotions, the negative effects of gambling include emotional side effects.
Gambling activity causes the production and release of the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals (neurotransmitters), which are part of the brain’s reward system. The result is that gambling makes the person feel good for a little while, which provides relief from negative emotions. The gambling activities themselves may also provide a welcome distraction from thinking about problems.
When gambling addicts are not gambling, the reward system drops the feel-good chemicals back down to normal or even below-normal to compensate for the unusually high levels that the gambling produced. As a result, gambling addicts can feel low, sluggish, unhappy and irritable when they are not gambling. Their emotions become dysregulated and dysfunctional.
You borrow money to pay for gambling
Borrowing money to gamble is a major part of the financial downfall that problem gamblers often face. They will use up normal ways of borrowing money, such as a line of credit, bank loan or second mortgage. After that, they could resort to ultra-high interest loans, such as credit cards, payday loans or even illicit loan sharks. They are so desperate to continue gambling that they will go to virtually any length to obtain more money, often under the belief that “this time” luck will find them and they will strike it rich.
You attempt to recover losses by gambling more
This feature of gambling addiction is known as “chasing.” As their gambling losses continue to accumulate, compulsive gamblers maintain the belief that “one more bet” is all they need to win back everything. To them, the next bet is always the big one. This strategy is how they will recover from their prior gambling losses and start to get ahead.
In addition to the brain reward system that drives them to continue gambling, it is this delusional and obsessional belief that “the next bet will be the big winner” that makes compulsive gamblers go to any length to keep gambling.
You are obsessed with gambling
Pathological gambling is a disorder of obsession-compulsion and impulse control. The obsession with betting and the possibility of winning causes great anxiety that can only be relieved by the compulsion: gambling. Obsessive gambling becomes the cure.
The obsession to gamble causes pathological gamblers to ruminate about their previous gambling, and to think of little else than the next time they can place a bet. It is difficult for them to think of anything else, even when they need to concentrate on normal life activities. These obsessive thoughts become invasive and seemingly unstoppable.
Your family and friends think you have a problem
Despite becoming experts at lying to cover up their gambling behaviours and financial losses, family and friends may eventually start to suspect that the gambling addict has a problem. When family and friends express concern, gambling addicts typically deny the problem. As the depth of the problem becomes apparent, family and friends may become more insistent and unable to understand why the gambler can’t “just stop.”
The continued concern is interpreted by pathological gamblers as “nagging,” and, as a result, they may push family and friends away. However, nothing pleases family and friends more than seeing a loved one with compulsive gambling accept help and recover.
You can’t stop
In the end, gambling addiction is defined as the inability to stop or even control the behaviour. Individuals affected by gambling addiction can’t stop gambling. They usually try many times to cut back or stop, and may succeed for a little while, but they always go back. With the right help, pathological gamblers can recover. However, stopping compulsive gambling is not about having enough willpower. The key to successful recovery from this debilitating addiction lies in identifying and addressing the underlying issues that are causing the compulsive behaviour.
If you or a loved one is addicted to gambling and struggling with other substances, read below on ways you can stop.
How to Stop?
Each time you choose not to gamble you are reducing the power of the urges.
A good strategy for quitting gambling includes building more meaningful, honest connections with those around you. In the short term – it is also helpful to consider tools such as blocking software, self-exclusion, asking for support to manage your finances and joining a regular group.
Most problem gamblers will still continue to feel urges to gamble again – even if there is a strong commitment to stopping. Be as prepared as you can for this by thinking through what your response will be to an urge.
Talk to someone
Speaking to someone about your urge to gamble can help you to put it in perspective. Naming it is important, and being honest with yourself about the feeling is important. You may choose to speak to a close friend, a counsellor, an online support service or it may just help to write down your thoughts and feelings.
This is as simple as it sounds. Choosing to do something completely different for a while can take the edge off the urge to gamble. Having a few things ready can be helpful – so take some time to think about the things you enjoy doing and could turn to if you find you are caught up in an urge to gamble.
Get to the root of the urge
It may seem that an urge to gamble has come out of nowhere – but that’s unlikely to be the case. Think about what is going on in your life that may have led up to the urge. Are you stressed with work, relationships or money? Find a way to explore this with someone close to you.
Take each day as it comes
Some days will be easier than others… that’s completely normal. Just because you experience more urges to gamble one day doesn’t mean you’re going downhill. If you get through this urge without gambling – that’s an achievement.
Each time you choose a different path in response to an urge you are removing its power. Simple pleasures such as connection with others, with nature or enjoying other activities will begin to have more meaning and gambling urges will feel less demanding. Good luck!