When Is Gambling an Addiction?
March 09, 2023
With the recent legalization of sports betting in Ohio, it’s easier than ever to place a wager. It begins as fun and excitement. But when does gambling become a problem?
Statistics show that when gambling venues and new options – such as the lottery and casinos – are legalized, gambling addictions increase.
Not All Fun and Games
A large percentage of Americans gamble for entertainment at some point in their lifetime. If they lose $250, they walk away from the casino having had a fun evening. But it’s estimated that 2-3 percent of Americans have a gambling disorder. Most of them don’t know they have a problem. Online gambling venues and lottery scratch-offs can be extremely addictive to individuals who are predisposed to develop a gambling disorder.
“With legalized sports betting, the availability of gambling has increased significantly. All you need is a phone. It’s easy to bet quickly and impulsively – anytime, anywhere and on anything related to a game or event. It’s often difficult to see the progression of what’s happening and to get hooked,” says University Hospitals Director of Addiction Recovery Services and nationally certified gambling counselor, Raymond Isackila, LPCC, LICDC, NCPGI.
Who’s At Risk?
Generally, gambling addiction falls into two categories: the escape gambler or the excitement gambler. These categories are similar to people with alcohol or cocaine addictions.
The escape gambler is similar to the alcoholic. This gambler often plays slot machines or the lottery. Often they suffer depression and have family and financial problems. Gambling fills their mind and offers an escape from despair.
Excitement gamblers are like cocaine addicts. They’re addicted to the “rush” of the game, often playing cards or dice or attracted to horseracing and sports betting. When they have a bet on something, they’re “in action.” Their heartbeat increases and they’re excited. They get an adrenaline dopamine rush.
People already in despair or seeking a rush are easily hooked by gambling. Young men who are by nature impulsive, competitive and overconfident are also at risk.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
Most people don’t realize they have a gambling problem and seek help until they’re faced with a financial crisis, ruined relationships or criminal charges. To diagnose whether someone has a gambling disorder, professional counselors look for the following behaviors.
Compulsion. When you lose, you choose to risk more money to recover your loss. That’s called “chasing your losses.” Worse yet, you begin to think that gambling can solve your financial problems – your winnings will cover your next car or mortgage payment.
Tolerance. Originally it was fun to go to the casino with $100, but now you go with $1,000. Over time it takes increasing amounts of money to experience the desired effect, either excitement or escape.
Withdrawal. When you try to stop gambling, you begin to feel anxious and irritable.
Preoccupation with gambling. You’re always thinking about your next opportunity, thinking about what to wager and how to do it differently, thinking that gambling will solve your financial problems, or remembering a past “big win.”
Dishonesty and secrecy. You lie to family members and friends, hide what you’re doing, where you’ve been and how much money you’ve wagered, always gambling in secret. This is a significant sign of a gambling problem.
Repeated efforts to quit or cut down on gambling. You recognize you have a problem and want to change, but get caught up in the addiction again and again.
Financial problems. Often ongoing and increase due to higher bets and losses.
“Gambling addiction can be happen to any age group, gender, race or socioeconomic status,” says Isackila. “The two most likely crises that bring gamblers to counselors and treatment centers are financial crisis and having loved ones find out about lost money and deceitfulness. If someone you know has a problem, encourage them to reach out for help.”
“Think of gambling as a means of entertainment or fun. It’s not a way to get rich quick or pay bills. And have a limit set. Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.”
The Addiction Recovery Services team at University Hospitals treats addiction as a brain disease affecting physical, mental, psychosocial and spiritual functioning. With a high staff-to-patient ratio, our team uses a holistic and evidence-based treatment approach tailored to meet individual patient needs.