According to The National Council on Problem Gambling, about two million people in the US “meet the criteria for pathological gambling.” This does not include the five or so million who exhibit similar signs. All too often, a gambling problem will go unnoticed. Unlike other addictions, the gambling symptoms are invisible and not often physically harmful. However, if left untreated, this addiction can escalate into more than just financial difficulties. In the long run, a gambling problem can lead to legal issues, problems in the workplace, relationship loss, and even suicide.
These seven signs are the most common in gambling addicts.
You can’t stop
People who gamble for fun know their limits. Most of the time, recreational gamblers will go into a game or place a bet with a certain amount of money and don’t think twice about spending any more. However, people with a gambling problem can spend countless hours and endless amounts of money. Deep down they may know their addiction is unhealthy, but due to the elation they feel, they’re unable to stop.
You’re gambling for reasons other than fun
Similar to drug and alcohol addictions, the problem lies in WHY you are indulging in this behavior. Are you using gambling as a form of escape rather than because it’s a fun social activity? Those with a gambling problem will use gambling as an unhealthy form of coping instead of dealing with their problems. Gambling might feel like a solution at the time, but within minutes, the old feelings will resurface, and the unhealthy cycle will continue.
Gambling has caused you to go broke
The most obvious problem with a gambling addiction is the gambler’s financial situation. Instead of using fun money that they’ve set aside to gamble with, they instead use money that’s saved for important things such as rent, bills, college savings for their children, etc. Sometimes the problem goes even further than this and addicts will gamble with money they’ve borrowed or even stolen.
You spend more and more money
Gambling addictions are very similar to drug or alcohol addictions in the sense that the gambler needs to spend more and more in order to get the same high. Smaller amounts of money no longer cut it for those with a gambling problem and, as the addiction builds, so does the amount of money that’s at stake.
Gambling becomes top priority
Have relationships, social events, and even your job become second to gambling? Those with gambling addictions are sucked into a dark hole where they not only spend more money than they have, they also spend more time than they can afford to lose. Gambling can cause you to miss out on major family milestones or life events.
Your gambling is compulsive
Social or recreational gamblers plan ahead. They decide when they’re going to gamble and how high they’re going to place their bets. But those with a gambling problem have lost control over this. They start to gamble larger sums of money with less thought. They also place bets on things outside of their comfort zone or areas of expertise, causing them to lose more and more.
You feel the need to keep it a secret
Like anything, if you feel the need to keep something secret, you’re probably experiencing extreme feelings of guilt, shame and/or embarrassment. You know that your friends and family would disapprove, which means deep down, you probably do as well.
Owning up to a gambling problem is difficult, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Like drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, or other addictions, pathological gambling is a mental illness that deserves the proper treatment.