A flutter on the Melbourne Cup, a scratchie every now and then, and a weekly Lotto ticket are all seemingly innocuous ways that gambling fits into the Australian culture. But a gambling addiction can sneak up on anyone with disastrous consequences. Gambling addiction can strain relationships, interfere with work, and generally make you do things you never thought you’d do, like stealing from friends and family or engaging in criminal activity.
Gambling addiction is a type of impulse-control disorder that can be difficult for the person with it to come to terms with. It also can be difficult for loved ones to notice that someone is developing a gambling problem. Problem gamblers often hide or trivialise the effect of gambling on their lives. They may withdraw from the people around them, or sneak around and lie about their gambling activity.
A gambling addiction can be betting on sports, scratch cards, roulette or poker. Staying away from the TAB, the racetrack or the casino often isn’t enough in this day and age, as there are plenty of opportunities to gamble online, in local clubs, or by picking up a scratchie at the local newsagent.
Things you should know about gamblers:
- Compulsive gamblers can't control their urge to gamble. They keep gambling even though they know they’re hurting their family and loved ones, and whether they’re winning or losing, or feeling happy or sad. Whether they’re flush or well into the red, they keep placing their bets in the hope of reward.
- A common misconception with gambling addictions is you don’t have to gamble everyday to have a gambling problem. If gambling is having a negative effect on your life, then it’s a problem. Also, a person with a gambling problem will find ways to get their fix when traditional methods are taken from them. It could be as simple for them as betting with a friend how long something will take to happen, or which raindrop will slide down the glass first.
- Gambling doesn’t just affect your finances. Gambling can affect your relationships, career, and can encourage criminal behaviour. The more desperate a gambler becomes to feel that winning high, the more likely they are to do anything it takes to achieve that feeling.
- Gamblers often blame their partners for driving them into gambling, but blaming others won’t solve the problem, it’s just a way of avoiding responsibility for it.
- Helping a gambler get out of debt is not fixing the problem. In fact, short term solutions can prolong the problem.
Psychologists have known since the 1950’s that a variable schedule of rewards (you win some, you lose some) is the best way to reinforce a behaviour. Recent studies tell us that what makes gambling so addictive is the dopamine jackpot we get when a task promises an uncertain reward. The variable rewards of gambling seem to put the brain in a trance-like state, removing its defences and providing opportunities to create new habits. We’re biologically driven to maintain the trance we know as fun, so gambling can be a difficult addiction to overcome. However, recognising that you have a problem is the first step to overcoming a gambling addiction.
Gamblers often think:
- Others won’t understand why gambling is so important to them.
- They’ll surprise everyone with a big one.
- They’ll win the next one, so they can’t walk away yet.
- They need to up their bets to win their money back.
- That gambling more money, even if it’s not their own, is the only way to get their money back.
What to do if you have a gambling problem?
- It’s never too late to seek help. Whether you start with loved ones or a counsellor, the sooner you seek help the sooner you’ll get it.
- Know when you’re vulnerable. Stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety can all trigger compulsive gambling. If you’ve had a tough day avoid being on your own and around opportunities to gamble.
- Find alternate ways to deal with the difficult feelings that trigger your gambling.
- The hardest part of recovery is admitting that you have a problem. While every gambler is different, you’re not the first person to lose money and relationships by compulsive gambling. Many people have travelled the same road and recovered from this destructive addiction. Once you’ve had the strength to admit you have a problem, seek professional help so that you can get a recovery program tailored to your situation.
- Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program where you work with a sponsor who has recovered from gambling themselves. The benefit of this is that you will be talking with someone impartial who can understand your side of the problem.
- You can also work with a cognitive behavioural therapist who will work with you to help you develop ways to reframe your thoughts and give you tools to support you when you need them.
Depression can develop through a gambling addiction and CBHS can offer a Mental Health program for any member who holds Hospital insurance. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like further information.