Are you worried about the way you, or someone you care about, is gambling?

In our Australian culture various forms of gambling are accepted social activities, and many people can enjoy the gambling without any negative consequences or resulting problems.

However for some people, and some families, gambling in moderation is just not possible.

For reasons that are becoming increasingly clear though scientific study, some people develop a compulsion to engage in gambling activities and go on to develop a gambling addiction.

There are 4 key forms of gambling activities that can lead to problems:

  1. Gaming
    The exchange of money dependent on the outcome of a game:
    • Poker machines, cards, casino table games, dice
  2. Betting
    Wagering on the outcome of a future event:
    • Racing and sports betting
  3. Lottery
    Redistribution of money according to a draw or lot:
    • Lotto, Keno, Scratchies
  4. Speculation
    Taking financial risks in hopes of quick money or “wins”
    • Stocks and share trading, risky business ventures

There are two basic categories of gambling behaviour:

Recreational or social gamblers

  • Gambling that is managed in a controlled manner, where the gambler knows when to stop, is able to set and keep to a pre-determined loss limit, and to attend to other family or work commitments

Problem or compulsive gamblers

  • Gambling that is not controlled, where the gambler is unable to stop, or feels a compulsion to continue gambling despite the negative consequences that they are experiencing as a result of the gambling activities

Compulsive gambling is a “process” addiction:

Process or behavioural addictions are patterns of behaviour, which follow a cycle similar to that of drug or alcohol addiction.

This begins with the individual experiencing pleasure in association with a behaviour or process and seeking that behaviour or process out, either for enjoyment or to distract from or avoid uncomfortable emotions. The process of seeking out and engaging in the behaviour becomes more frequent and ritualized, until it becomes a significant part of the person's life.

When the person is addicted, they experience urges or cravings to engage in the process or behaviour, which intensify until the person carries out the process or behaviour again, resulting in feelings of relief and/or elation. Eventually negative consequences start to mount as a result of engaging in the behaviour but the compulsion to experience the process or behaviour is so strong that they continue despite the resulting problems.

The development of a gambling addiction generally has the same 3 stages as chemical addictions:

  1. Experimentation – often begins during the teenage years where the young person first experiences the excitement or “thrill” that accompanies gambling activities
  2. Habitual patterning – the process of developing patterns of gambling which become normalized in your life
  3. Dependency – becoming increasingly dependent on the gambling to manage some aspects of your life, and withdrawal symptoms are experienced when you stop

Gambling Addiction is a cunning and baffling disease that creeps up on you over a period of time as habitual patterns of thinking and behaving develop, and become a regular part of your life. Your relationship with the gambling activities becomes characterised by obsession and compulsion. The obsession refers to the way you think about gambling – the time you spend thinking about when you next have the opportunity to gamble, and planning what you will do, how you will do it etc. The compulsion refers to loss of control over your impulse to gamble, resulting in your continuing to keep gambling even when you have good reasons for stopping.

The disease of Gambling Addiction is far more complex than just the behaviour of engaging in the gambling activities too much.

There are two main ways that a Gambling Addiction presents:

  1. Regular or habitual gambling

Characterised by using your gambling on a daily or near daily basis accompanied by the signs and symptoms below.

  1. Binge or “bender,” or “heavy episodic gambling”

Episodic patterns of gambling, often with periods of no gambling for days or weeks between.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

  • Increasing tolerance: Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money, or risk, in order to achieve the desired excitement or "rush"
  • Impaired control: Lacking the ability to successfully control, cut back, or stop gambling
  • Withdrawal: Experiencing intense cravings, restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

  • Preoccupation with gambling activities
  • An inability to stop gambling whether winning or losing
  • Gambling with increasing amounts of money, or increasing the risk in some way
  • Continuing to gamble despite many decisions to stop
  • Neglecting responsibilities to concentrate on gambling activities
  • Telling lies or hiding the extent of your gambling activities
  • Impatience and conflict with family and friends
  • Financial problems and debt
  • Fantasies of “this week’s win” to overcome “last weeks loss” and dreams of “bigger wins.”
  • Wide mood swings
  • Using gambling activities to escape problems or uncomfortable feelings
  • Absenteeism, lateness and poor performance at work
  • Discomfort with of thoughts about stopping gambling
  • Belief that life without gambling would be too difficult

Negative consequences

A strong indicator of a Gambling Addiction is when a person continues to gamble despite the negative consequences resulting from their gambling activities. Some of these problematic consequences may include:

  • Financial consequences – Have you borrowed money to pay gambling debts or are you currently in debt? How much money have you spent on gambling activities?
  • Legal consequences –have you been in trouble with the law, or participated in illegal activities associated with your gambling?
  • Relational consequences – have your relationships suffered as a result of your gambling? Have you lied about your gambling behaviour, or has it caused conflict in your family? Do you depend on family and friends to “bail you out” of gambling debts?
  • Reputational consequences – have you ever felt ashamed, or hidden the fact that you are a gambler?
  • Health consequences – a gambling addiction is often very stressful resulting in a range of health issues, feelings of anxiety, depression and despair, and poor self care
  • Career consequences – how has your gambling impacted your performance at work and prospect for career progression?
  • Spiritual consequences – how much time have you spent despairing about the way your life path is unfolding?

Gambling Addiction Realities

Recovery from a gambling addiction is likely to be more successful when co-existing issues, underlying causes and environmental factors are addressed at the same time as you stop engaging in the gambling activities.

Withdrawing from a process addiction such as gambling can be very challenging, uncomfortable and confusing when attempting it alone. For this reason a professionally supervised treatment program is strongly recommended.

Addiction is a cunning, baffling and deadly disease and is most effectively treated in a therapeutic environment supported by addiction specialist health professionals.

If you would like to speak to someone who understands gambling addiction, and who can discuss the your particular situation and treatment needs, we suggest that you call our assessment team who will offer a free and confidential preliminary chat, or full assessment if that is your preference.

Take the first step into treatment today by phoning or emailing our assessment team on 1800 063 332.