How to Recognise that You Have a Gambling Problem
Not everyone recognises that they have a gambling problem. Some people recognise that they have a gambling problem but will still refuse to seek help. Others understand that they have a gambling problem, but they don’t really know where to turn. No matter which of those categories you fall into, this article will help you understand the symptoms you may be experiencing that indicate you may have a problem recognising that you have a gambling problem.
We advise everyone who uses NewCasinos.org to read this article all the way through regularly. Even responsible gamblers can become problem gamblers without their knowing it. Sometimes the signs are obvious, but other times they can be very subtle.
Gambling addiction is an illness, and like any illness, it can only be diagnosed if the symptoms are examined. Gambling addiction is also an illness that can be cured, but only if it has been diagnosed.
Acknowledging that you have a problem
Most people seem to find it hard to understand how problem gamblers can fail to see that they have a problem. Surely if they are losing lots of money gambling, or spending too much time gambling, or choose to gamble over other pastimes that used to fill their time, it is clear that they have a problem, so why don’t they do something about it?
It’s another factor of being human – if someone wants to do something badly enough, they will find a way of doing it no matter what is it. Many people guilty of sexual offences express disbelief that they ended up doing something so abhorrent. Still, while people committing sexual offences should not be forgiven for doing so off-hand, it is one example of how the mind works. If something is wanted badly enough, the mind will devise ‘permitting’ the person to do something obviously wrong.
How do you recognise that you have a gambling problem if your mind is not keen for you to do so? Below you will find the three most common stages of problematic gambling. If you recognise any of the factors mentioned in line with your own gambling, then you may need to take steps to acknowledge that you could be a problem gambler.
The first stage – the winning streak
Problem gambling usually begins with winning, and not with losing. To someone new to gambling, the best thing that can happen to them is to lose. Some people may lose so often that they decide gambling is not for them, while others accept losing as part of gambling which means they are unlikely to risk huge sums of money to attain the reward of winning.
People new to gambling who win (and people who have been on a losing streak or are breaking even and then experience a winning streak) are much more likely to fall to problem gambling than people who lose, or people who break even. Winning is addictive – it’s like that first hit of nicotine a person susceptible to smoking experiences – it’s (to them) a pleasurable experience that they want to expose themselves to time and time again, despite the negative effect that tobacco has on health.
Winning is dangerous when it comes to gambling, as it can trigger illogical dreams and fantasies. Say a player comes away from a blackjack session having won $100 with a $1 stake. If they increase their wager to $10, then they would win $1,000. Up it to $100 and they will win $10,000. Carry on in this vein, and fabulous riches are surely a nailed-on certainty.
Problem gamblers become addicted in two ways – they become addicted to the short-term thrill of winning, and the long-term fantasy of obtaining riches via their gambling.
Unfortunately, gambling has a way of establishing an equilibrium. If a player experiences a winning streak, then will, no matter how long it takes, experience a losing streak too. Which brings us to the second stage …
The second stage – the losing streak
No matter what anyone thinks, or whatever systems a player uses or the expertise a sporting betting expert thinks they possess, the house will always win. Most gambling games are designed to give players a decent-enough chance of winning, but the house will ALWAYS come out on top in the long term. If it were the other way around, there would be no casinos anywhere on the planet, or sportsbooks online or anywhere in the real world.
A winning streak will ALWAYS come to an end. Very, very few people have become successful gamblers and most of them that do, they do so by changing the odds, so the odds of a game is skewed in their favour (I.e., they cheat). After a winning streak, the best thing for a gambler is for them to walk away, or at least experience a streak where wins are just about as common as losses.
But for most gamblers, the losing streak will eventually arrive, and when it does, a problem gambler will typically react in four ways (as opposed to stopping gambling altogether, which is what they should do):
- They will increase the time that they spend gambling.
- They will increase the stakes they pay when they gamble.
- They will become secretive, guarded and defensive about their gambling.
- They will become more preoccupied about gambling than they have previously been
This is were problematic gambling really begins to bite. Problem gambling is not just about losing money and falling into debt. Problem gambling is also about the effect that gambling has on the rest of a person’s life. Someone sliding towards problem gambling will lose interest in other important aspects of their lives, including their relationships with their loved ones, friends and colleagues. They will stop doing other things that they previously enjoyed because they want to spend more time gambling. Not only will their social life suffer, but their working life will also start to fall apart as they find it hard to concentrate on their tasks because they have become so preoccupied with gambling.
Also, their finances may take a hit. If someone sliding towards problem gambling runs out of disposable income they are likely to take steps to source income via alternative means – perhaps using money they usually put aside for rent, mortgage payments, food, activities and utility payments. If this isn’t enough, then the hazardous financial stage begins – the gambler will start to borrow money. As they use all their disposable income for gambling, they have no means of paying this money back, which means they will sink deeper and deeper into debt.
Once a problem gambler in on this slippery slope, it is challenging for them to claw their way back to normality. Sadly, even worse is yet to come with the third stage.
The third stage – desperation
Most people think of problem gamblers of being selfish people who will beg, steal, and borrow money to fuel their gambling habit, but nothing could be further from the truth in the majority of cases. People with a problem nearly always know they have a problem; they feel remorseful, and their self-esteem is at an all-time low. They can sink into depression, so to combat their low feelings, they will do the one thing that has provided them with joy in their recent past, and that of course is gambling.
If problem gamblers develop money problems, they will attempt to solve their money problems in the one way they really know how to – by gambling in the hope; they will win. What’s more, they will go for long shots in the hope of winning a huge payback in results for a low stake, but long shots are long shots for a reason – they seldom come in.
Desperation can turn to hopelessness, and this is where the real dangers of problematic gambling lurk. Hopeless people turn to radical solutions to make their lives bearable or to solve their issues. Even the most law-abiding citizen maybe lead into a life a crime if that’s the only solution they can think of. Thoughts many also turn to heavy alcohol or drug use, or even suicide.
The cyclical nature of problematic gambling
The stages above are described linearly, but the journey to problematic gambling does not always fall that way. Another route to becoming a problem gambler is cyclical in nature, as follows:
- The Trigger: A person who believes they have a gambling problem has stopped gambling, but then something happens that makes them think about gambling.
- The Urge: The person will resist the temptation to begin gambling, but eventually, the urge to gamble becomes greater than the person’s ability to resist it.
- The Episode: The person starts to gamble.
- The Continuation: The person continues to gamble even when they have passed the point where they should. Old gambling habits resurface, such as chasing losses, raising stakes or punting on outside bets.
- The Cessation: Either the person gathers enough about themselves to slam the brakes on when it comes to problem gambling, or there is some environmental action applied such as the intervention of others, or the running out of money.
A problem gambler will find themselves trapped in this problematic gambling loop.
How to spot the symptoms of problematic gambling
Problem gamblers are not the best people at spotting that they have a problem. As has been explained before, people who want to do something that they should not do will find ways to do it. This not only covers practical means but mental ones too, i.e. permitting yourself to do what you want to do even though that you know that you shouldn’t.
If you gamble, then you should look through the following list of questions and answer them honestly. If you find that answer ‘yes’ to any more than two or three of them, then you may very well be a problem gambler.
- Have you ever lost a substantial amount of money because of gambling?
- Have you a desire to win a large amount of money through your gambling?
- Do you keep on gambling until you have lost all the money you were gambling with?
- Do you gamble to win back money that you have previously lost?
- Do you have to increase your bet size to keep gambling thrilling?
- Do you need to borrow money to gamble?
- Have you stopped spending money on what you normally spend it on so you can use it for gambling?
- Have you committed a crime to finance your gambling?
- Are you spending more time gambling now that you used to?
- Do you end up spending more time gambling than you used to?
- Do you spend less time doing the things you used to do so you have more time for gambling?
- Are you seeing less of your friends because you would rather spend time gambling?
- Do you have less time now to attend to other aspects of your life because you are gambling?
- Have you missed work because of your gambling?
- Are you less efficient at work than you used to be?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate at work because you are thinking about gambling?
- Are you ignoring your goals and ambitions because you are spending time gambling?
- Have you lost touch with any friends because of your gambling?
- Do you think that people think less of you because of your gambling?
- Have you lied about your gambling to anyone?
- Have you become fearful or irritable because of your gambling?
- Do you find it hard to sleep because you are thinking about gambling?
- Do you feel depressed or anxious about your gambling?
- Do you feel you are using gambling as a tool to cope with other aspects of your life?
- Have you had thoughts about self-harm or suicide because of your gambling?
As you work your way through these questions, estimate how many of them pertain to the way you think about your gambling. Even if you answer ‘yes’ to a couple of these questions, then chances are you may be a problem gambler or be on your way to becoming a problem gambler.
If you are unsure about anything written above, please keep reading as we are about to go into more detail about how gambling problems can affect you, your life, and those closest to you.
The stop … remorse loop
There are two main types of problem gamblers – those who know they have a problem yet feel impotent when trying and doing anything about it. Those who deny they have a problem despite some destructive behaviour and refuse to do anything about it.
Those in the latter category are caught in a loop where their desire to stop gambling is not as strong as their desire to keep on gambling. This is one of the most common damaging aspects of being a problem gambler – you know something is bad for you, you want to stop doing that thing, but you find that you are unable to do. It’s like a smoker who wants to quit smoking, but their need for nicotine is greater than their desire to stop harming themselves.
Problem gamblers in this category find themselves stuck in a stop … remorse loop. This is where they recognise they have a problem, they stop gambling for a short time, they start gambling again, they then feel remorseful for having gambled, so they stop gambling for a short time … and do it goes on.
Happiness is a rare commodity in life, so everyone has the right to find anything that makes them happy. If that happiness comes with a cost though – and feelings of remorse – then that is not true happiness. It really is time to stop and find something else.
The financial aspect
Countless moons ago, people simply exchanged goods and services based on their equivalent value. Then someone came up with an idea of how such values could be represented and hey presto, money was born. We now seem to spend most of our lives chasing as much of it as we can, and indeed some people have so much of the stuff they couldn’t possibly ever hope to spend all of it!
Gambling is and always has been tied up with money. You would think that for anyone losing money because of their gambling, it would be obvious to them that they have a problem, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Many problem gamblers view the loss of money as being nothing more than a temporary set-back. They started to gamble with the dream that they will one day win a huge amount of cash to cope with their losses until then. You cannot tell a problem gambler that their huge payday may never arrive, leaving them deadly in debt. It’s worth noting that successful gamblers always stick to the mantra “win little but often”. Problem gamblers simply cannot stick to that way of thinking – they dream of big wins so for them it’s big stakes on unlikely bets in the hope that one day, that big bet (like Leicester City winning the 2015-16 EPL at odds of 5,000-1) will come in.
A problem gambler will usually enter a five-stage series when they need to fund their gambling habit.
- They will spend money that they have put aside for gambling.
- They will spend money that they put aside for non-crucial aspects of life that they did not intend to use for gambling.
- They will spend money that they put aside for crucial aspects of life, such as rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, food.
- They will source money legally – credit cards, payday loans, borrowing from friends and family.
- They will source money illegally – embezzlement, stealing from employers, stealing from family and friends.
The majority of gamblers will stop once they have reached the end of stage one, and a few might stumble into stage two, but they will go no further. As soon as someone reaches stage three, it isn’t straightforward for them not to enter stages four and eventually even five. Anyone though who makes it as far as stage three will need to address the fact that in all likelihood, they have a gambling problem or at least are heading straight to becoming a problem gambler.
Gambling is an addiction is the same way drugs are to many people. A person who experiences heroin for the first time would not get the same ‘hit’ if they tried it again … with the same dosage. To get that ‘hit’ they would have to increase that dosage, and so on and so on with potentially fatal results. It is the same with money and gambling – for a problem gambler to feel that ‘hit’ of their first gambling win, they would need to increase the size of the bets in the future to experience that same kind of thrill. This is where money issues really start to hit when gamblers have to bet more money than they can find.
Many people think that gambling is all about winning or losing money, but in most cases, that is not the case. A problem gambler who finally achieves that dream win – the reason they started gambling in the first place – will then not simply stop gambling. They will just up their goal and hunt for an even bigger win, starting the destructive process all over again.
The time aspect
One of the most important yet rarely-understood aspects of problematic gambling is time management. Even people who do not lose a whole lot of money can become problem gamblers. If you are playing at a poker table with $0.01/$0.02 blinds, then it’s unlikely you are ever going suffer money issues. However, that does not mean that automatically you are not a problem gambler.
Most of us without any real desire to become habitual casino players start playing games such as slots, blackjack and roulette as a means to pass some time. Some of us may even play with play money (if you reside in a jurisdiction that permits free play) and never gamble with money. We may eventually settle on a game that we really enjoy playing, so much so that we make time in our day so we can spend a little time playing.
For most of us, then, playing is little more than a harmless distraction. For some, though, it can become something of an obsession. If you’ve ever been ‘addicted’ to any kind of game you’ve probably gone through the experience of starting a game just before bedtime, and then a few games later looked up at the clock to realise it’s three in the morning!
When it comes to problem gambling, such gamblers lose time much more than they lose money (some, of course, do both!). Even online casino games can become addictive – it doesn’t matter if they are played for play money, low stakes or high stakes.
One of the earliest indications of problem gambling is when someone spends more time gambling than they intended. This was not so much of an issue before the internet – to play casino blackjack you need to go to a casino, and such places are not generally open 24/7. Of course, these days if you have an internet connection you can play blackjack every moment of every day if you so wish or any casino game. If sports betting is more your thing, then sportsbooks online enable to place bets on sporting events operating around the clock.
You may wonder – so what? So what if someone spends more time gambling that they should do? That’s not a problem as long as they are not losing heaps of money, surely?
The truth is spending too much time gambling can be as devastating as spending too much money gambling. If, for example, you are gambling when you should be sleeping, you are unlikely to be at 100% when you wake up the following morning. You’ll be unable to concentrate, and your work may suffer as a result.
Gambling is more often a solitary pursuit than a social one, meaning someone who is spending a lot of time gambling is spending less time with friends and family and spending less time on activities they previously enjoyed. They can even become reclusive, or phoning work pretending they are ill, so they have more time to gamble.
People who are addicted to gambling in this way (whether or not large sums of money are involved) will always end up preoccupied with gambling. Even when they are not gambling, they will be thinking about gambling and the next time they can gamble. Someone who loses valuable time gambling is just as much a problem gambler as someone who loses and continues to lose money that they cannot afford to.
The work aspect
For many people, gambling is all about the money and for those people, their chief source of income is their employment or the business they run. If it is the latter, then problem gamblers will often syphon money away from their business to fund their gambling instead. It’s unlikely that a business will survive unscathed if this is what happens.
Any employee that is spending too much time gambling can become preoccupied with gambling to the point at which their work begins to suffer. They may even take time off from work to gamble or gamble while they are at work via, for example, their phone. If an employee works in any capacity that involves the company’s funds, embezzlement is also a possibility – this is where an employee steals from the company that employs them. This is a serious crime that usually results in a prison sentence.
People who become addicted to gambling also tend to lose their drive. They become less ambitious and lose focus on their careers because they focus too much on their gambling. Work becomes an issue for them as it eats into their time and its time that they would rather spend gambling.
As a result of all this, very few problem gamblers have a healthy relationship with their employment.
The social aspect
Just as employment loses its appeal if you become a problem gambler, the social side of life loses its appeal too. A social life, just like work, eats into the time that people have available to them. Again, problem gamblers would rather spend time gambling than they would be socialising. Requests to socialise become annoying to a problem gambler, and resentments can build.
Everyone knows that if an effort is not put into a relationship, that relationship suffers. For a problem gambler, the closer that relationship is, the more the resentment builds. Anyone with a spouse or children is quite naturally expected to spend a great deal of their time with them. As this time impinges on their gambling, problems gamblers start to resent the very people whom they should be closest to the most. It’s one of the saddest factors of problem gambling: it’s a common cause of family break ups.
Friends and colleagues have less invested in a person than a spouse, a parent or a son/daughter, but such relationships still need work. If a person neglects a friendship because they would rather spend their time gambling, then that friendship will simply fade over time. Such friendships are hard to rebuild once they have been broken.
Interests and hobbies also wane if a person is spending too much time gambling. If a hobby is a physical one such as running or playing a sport, then a person’s health may suffer too if the hobby is neglected, and casual relationships typically of shared interests and hobbies will suffer as well.
Family and friends tend to be the most likely to recognise that someone has a gambling problem, which is why problem gamblers take steps to conceal their gambling from those closest to them. This can cause stress as maintaining a consistent falsehood about something that is taking up a large percentage of someone’s life is hardly the easiest thing in the world to do. If family and friends are constantly pointing out that someone has a problem then that will only ever cause resentment – no problem gambler wants to hear that they have a gambling problem as then they would have to face the fact that they have, and possibly even stop gambling.
The psychological symptoms of problem gambling
Many people think that problems gamblers only have to deal with the disappointment of losing and the thrill of winning. There are other emotional and psychological aspects that a problem gambler has to deal with too:
Fear: Fear is not usually an emotion associated with problem gambling, but most problem gamblers have to deal with it daily. The main fear comes with what the future holds for them if they do not get back to their place before they started gambling. Fear is a dangerous emotion as it can lead to irrational thoughts, such as placing large bets on unlikely outcomes hoping that this will be ‘the one’ to make that fear a thing of the past.
Irritability: The irritability associated with gambling comes when a problem gambler has to face or think about what they are doing. They simply do not want to talk about it, or to face up to the thought of what it is doing to their lives. Being forced to think about this causes irritation, lack of sleep and an inability to relax.
Self-harm: Self-harm doesn’t just mean physical damage – it also means destructive behaviour such as heavy drinking, being abusive to friends and becoming reclusive. Problem gamblers often want to ‘punish’ themselves, or resort to extremes to combat the negative feelings because of their gambling. Others desire to be helped but don’t want to ask for help or don’t know how to. They choose self-harm as a means of drawing attention to themselves so that people will offer to help them. Of course, for some people, they get to a stage where they can see no future for themselves and no solution to the problems they have created. For them, the ultimate example of self-harm is the only way out.
These three examples of the emotional turmoil a problem gambler has to face coupled with the infrequent highs, and the frequent lows of problematic gambling can lead people down some very dark paths, including anxiety, depression and a complete inability to function like a normal person.
A concrete diagnosis – do you have a gambling problem or not?
The truth is if you as much as think you might have a gambling problem then very probably do have a gambling problem. Another question you might ask yourself is whether you find gambling fun? There are negatives to even the most entertaining activities, but once those negative elements outweigh the entertaining ones, then it’s time to stop doing it.
For some people, though, they are not satisfied unless they have received a concrete appraisal and a diagnosis. Thankfully, there are tools available that provide just that.
For example, one of the leading problem gambling help organisations – Gamblers Anonymous – has a tool on its site that can lead to a diagnosis. This tool consists of 20 closed questions which need to answer honestly. If you answer ‘yes’ to at least seven of the questions, then you have a gambling problem that needs to be addressed.
This diagnostic tool can be found here.
This tool though is an unofficial tool. As gambling addiction is a recognised mental disorder, then an official way of diagnosing it is required. This is via a publication called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (or DSM-5, for short).
DSM-5 is designed to help a medical professional diagnose whether someone they are dealing with is suffering from gambling addiction. Such a person would be repeatedly assessed over a twelve-month period, and observations on their behaviour made, particularly regarding their gambling, in line with several defined criteria. Depending upon the number of criteria met, a specific level of treatment would be suggested. Problem gamblers can be defined as having no, mild, moderate or severe gambling problems. There are also gamblers prone to lapses during periods of no gambling or non-problematic gambling, and gamblers who have sustained problem gamblers find it practically impossible not to gamble.
Think you have a gambling problem? Then you need to get help.
If you think you have a gambling problem or have realised that you might have a gambling problem or have finally acknowledged the truth that you have a gambling problem, congratulations – you have taken the first and most important step in your recovery. This is good news, but it is not as good news as the information that there are plenty of ways for you to get help.
Here at NewCasinos.org, we are committed to encouraging responsible gambling and providing our site users with how they can take those first important steps in getting help. There is plenty you can do to stop your irresponsible gambling habits and overcome your problem gambling and further articles in this series will help you do just that.
It is important not to blame yourself or feel guilty about falling foul of gambling. Every problem gambler started gambling without knowing that they would turn into a problem gambler – it is practically impossible to predict who will become a problem gambler and who won’t, just as it is practically impossible to predict who will become an alcoholic after their first sip of alcohol, and who won’t.
You are not to blame, but if you have become a problem gambler, you need to take the responsible step of taking appropriate actions to get the help you need.