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Compulsive Gambling — Gaming Gone Bad
A gambling addiction is nothing to wager your future on. Here are the warning signs and ways to get help.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Like all addictions, a gambling addiction can tax you mentally and physically, but compulsive gambling also takes another huge toll — a financial one.
Compulsive gambling is a slippery slope. What starts as a game here or there can gradually become a downward spiral, with the addict always thinking he’s on the verge of winning.
“Often, addicted gamblers cannot stop playing and will lose the ability to look at a situation rationally,” says Kathleen Nickerson, PhD, the founder of FeelBetterNetwork.com and author of five self-help books. “They become consumed by the thrill of the game.”
How to Spot a Gambling Addiction
For an addicted gambler, it goes far beyond the occasional game for fun. “The person passes up important work, family, or social events in favor of gambling,” says Nickerson. “Sometimes a gambler will report that ‘they know they should be winning’ and will seem obsessed with playing, arguing that the odds are on their side now or that they’re on a lucky streak.”
Other warning signs of a gambling addiction include:
Compulsive Gambling Is Just a Click Away
With the advent of online poker and other Internet-based gaming, gambling has become more accessible than ever — and becoming addicted to gambling has become even easier.
“As the availability of online gaming has increased, so has the addiction to online gaming,” says Nickerson. “Also, with poker in particular, it is treated as something of a sport, with ESPN showing all of the World Series of Poker events, so some people may feel that they are playing a sport more than gambling. Playing poker and other online games have become socially acceptable, so people are more likely to spend time doing this at home and work.”
One of the main reasons online gaming is problematic is because it’s so easy. As a result, it may draw in teens or more people predisposed to gambling. And because no money physically changes hands, it doesn’t seem as harmful to the participants. Online gambling is also available anytime around the clock, and it can be easily hidden from loved ones.
When Compulsive Gambling Leads to Other Addictions
One of the frightening things about compulsive gambling is that it can be a gateway to other addictions. Because addictions are usually based on masking emotional pain, they can be serial. For instance, the alcoholic who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous and gets sober may then develop a drug, eating, shopping, sex, or gambling addiction because underlying issues have not been resolved.
The rise in online gaming’s popularity in particular can link gambling addiction almost directly with sex addiction. When the gambler is losing, he is only one click away from internet porn sites. Considering this, it’s best to stay vigilant about other addictions, even after a loved one appears to have one of them under control.
Where to Get Help for a Gambling Addiction
Daisy Miller, PhD, the chief clinical officer at Hollywood Pavilion, a mental health program in Hollywood, Fla., says caregivers have two excellent tools at their disposal to help their addicted loved ones: the National Council on Problem Gambling’s 24-hour confidential national hotline at 1-800-522-4700 and . You can use “Counselor Search” to locate a gambling counselor in your area and join a support group. Spouses should go to Gamblers Anonymous, too, to be educated in how to help, and couples and families with these problems can also benefit from counseling in conjunction with Gamblers Anonymous.
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