In the UK, there are between 360,000 and 451,000 people with disordered gambling , and this number is growing. Today, bets – especially online betting – represent the type of addiction with the highest growth rate in the world. Gambling is generally accepted and strongly encouraged as a social activity. This means that more and more people are playing. Without knowing the risks involved or knowing the signs of gambling addiction, many can develop a gambling disorder without realising it.

Being addicted to gambling is not a choice, it is not a vice and it is not a matter of will, but it is equally true that you can choose to do something about it. Gambling related harms can include serious financial and family difficulties. The person with a gambling disorder may feel that life is out of control. Specialised treatment can help anyone overcome the problems caused by gambling addiction. In the rehabilitation centres available on Guide to Rehab, the recovery program for disordered gambling involves specific treatment for each patient’s needs.

Risk factors that can cause gambling addiction problems

The factors that may contribute to the emergence and development of gambling fall into three categories: family, individual and sociological. Individual factors include the person’s personality, emotional intelligence, and biological factors.

The most significant individual factors are the following:

  • age – early onset of gambling (before the age of 11) makes addiction more likely
  • sex – men are at higher risk than women
  • symptoms of lack of attention and hyperactivity in childhood
  • early exposure to gambling (family or entourage) – most of those who start playing, from an early age or adolescence, have come into contact with gambling through family or friends of the same age or in the family environment (playing cards, dice, billiards, bowling)
  • the family has a parent addicted to alcohol or another substance or pathological gamblers
  • traumatic events such as divorce, a serious mental or physical illness of a family member, the death of a family member, ending a relationship, a history of trauma or sexual abuse
  • the presence of another type of addiction (such as drug addiction) or the use of another addictive substance
  • the presence of one of the following personality disorders: obsessive-compulsive, borderline
  • casual playing in the casino
  • lack of direction in life
  • the illusion of control over the game
  • sensory gaming attractions: sound and light
  • reward seeking behavior

Symptoms of gambling addiction

Pathological gambling is seen as a hidden condition, due to the lack of physical symptoms, but it involves psychological symptoms:

  • the person gambling is worrying about the game (e.g., is afraid of reliving previous gaming experiences, they are constantly thinking about where and when they will play again and how they will finance the play, they are constantly counting of the “next big” win to solve their problems. )
  • needs to pay increasing amounts of money to get the desired sensation
  • has unsuccessfully managed to control, reduce or stop gambling
  • restless or irritable when attempting to cut or halt gambling
  • play to get rid of problems or to ease a dysphoric mood (feelings of vulnerability, guilt, anxiety, or depression)
  • after losing money, returns another day to get the money back
  • committed illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement, to finance gambling
  • endangered or lost an important relationship, job, or career opportunity
  • relies on others to procure money to output a desperate financial situation

Gambling behaviour is not explained by more than one manic episode.

However, in assessing for a gambling disorder diagnosis, the Guide to Rehab specialists take into account other signs or behaviours besides those mentioned; it is also necessary to discuss with the family members of those addicted to gambling about the player’s behaviour in everyday life or any co-occurring disorders.

The stages of gambling addiction

The first stage is winning, in which a large amount won stimulates the feeling of omnipotence. It is thought that two types of motivations trigger game behaviour:

  • the need for adrenaline, dynamism (described by the big win)
  • looking for an escape (from the problems in the individual’s life)

The second stage is that of loss, in which the person has “bad luck” several times in a row or feels the loss as unbearable. He alternates the game strategies trying to recover all the losses at once, and thus the debts appear. The person with problem gambling will try to hide debts, will lie about it and will also try to hide his/her behaviour. As he or she becomes more secretive and irritable, his or her relationship with family and friends will be affected.

In the third stage, the player’s despair will resort to out of character desperate behaviour such as often illegal (theft, fraud) to get money for the game. Relationships are damaged and there are symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts.

In the last stage, the resignation, the individual recognises that losses cannot be recovered. The game of “chance” continues with the main motivating factors – excitement and euphoria.

Gambling addiction treatment

As with other addictions, gambling addiction is a complex condition, varying depending on bio-psycho-social factors. For some people, the act of gambling remains within entertainment, while for others it becomes “everything”. Distinguishing between the two types of playing is essential. A person dealing with gambling addiction may have these thoughts:

  • “My only thought is how to get money to go play”,
  • “I ended up playing all my salary”,
  • “I can’t enjoy anything anymore”,
  • “I think it would be annoying not to be able to watch the bets all the time,”
  • “I came to pawn the family property”
  • “Everything I managed to get in the 10 years of work I lost at the casino in less than a year.”

At Guide to Rehab you will find therapists in the UK who offer support and help persons with problem gambling in their efforts to acquire and maintain a healthy lifestyle, free from disordered gambling.