“Any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or 'skill' constitutes gambling.”...Gamblers Anonymous
Slot machines, black jack, lotto, the pool table, horse racing, lotto and going to casinos are for the majority of individuals a fun, harmless, stress relieving activity. However, for some, this fun casual activity can become an illness which can destroy both the individual and all those around him. As time goes by, the fun player becomes a progressive addict, waging bigger and risking more money for the eventual thrill.
Habitual gambling is a progressive disorder/sickness, which initially starts out as a frivolous action and ends up being destructive to both the gambler and his/her families. Compulsive gambling has psychological, physical and religious consequences. The principal feature of gambling addiction is denial and the foremost characteristics are loss of control and denial. There is also a propensity to take larger and bigger risks as time goes by.
Like alcoholism, it is a disorder, for which there is no cure. However, the course of habitual gambling can be arrested. One of the central symptoms of gambling addiction is that it becomes a dominant passion that permeates all aspects of the gambler's life. There is complete lack of ability to stop gambling, and despite potential disruptions in family, social and professional life, the gambling goes on.
Three major phases of compulsive gambling include
ecstasy when winning, severe tension when losing and extremes of anxiety in between these two phases.
The costs of being a gambling addict are not only financial. The toll on the family and others around the individual can be psychologically agonizing. Social turbulence can result in marital breakdown, financial ruin and irreparable personal profile. The individual with a gambling problem may develop physical symptoms which may include depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, headaches and hypertension. Alcoholism consumption and smoking are associated features.
As the course of the disorder progresses, the individual may develop working difficulties. It is at this moment in time, that the individual may venture in criminal activities to obtain more funds for his addiction. It is not uncommon for the individual to have borrowed large sums of money from numerous colleagues at work- all the money usually is never repaid.
People at Risk
Today, evidence shows that people who do gamble heavily do so because of the easy access and availability of casinos. Individuals in the lower socio -economic class are more prone to gambling. Unemployed individuals may start out as thrill seekers but soon become vulnerable to the lure of gambling. Gender studies indicate that men in their 20-30s are addicts with slots and horse bets, whereas older women are more into bingo, slot machines and scratch cards. However, no one is immune from becoming a gambling addict given the right opportunity.
Is there a genetic component
There are no physical or psychological reasons as to why one becomes a gambling addict. There is a genetic trait which indicates that gambling does run in families, however, no genetic marker or chromosomal defect has ever been linked to addiction. Features that are more common in gamblers include psychological insecurity, lack of responsibility and a desire to hurt themselves.
Course of Gambling Addiction
Compulsive gambling usually starts at an early age, generally in the early 20s for males and late 30-40s for females. The initial thrill and glamour captivates some individuals for life.
The early or winning phase is similar to the learning phase of a substance addict where the high is fun and the consequences minimal or nonexistent. As the disease progresses, there is a marked narrowing of interests as the gambler becomes preoccupied with gambling and obtaining money to gamble.
However, most people progressively become gamblers, usually after a big win. This is soon followed by an unrealistic certainty of more big wins. Gambling addicts have a predisposition to gamble by themselves and to gamble until they have nothing left.
With time, larger and bigger high risk bets are made and the desire to win back all the money intensifies. This is accompanied by periods of emotional highs and lows. The whole world of a gambler revolves around cycles of anxiety and depression.
Physical Features of Gambling Addiction
Depression and anxiety are universal features of a gambling addict and a common dual diagnosis. Together with these features is worsening and general disregard of personal health. Psychological mood swings are common and the individual becomes isolated, loses his temper easily, and is irritable and almost always lost in thought.
Almost all gambling addicts turn to family, relatives, friends and even banks for money. Crime is a common feature and money is stolen from colleagues and spouse. Rents and other bills are generally neglected. With time, lying becomes a constant characteristic in the gamblers life. Almost everyone in the family learns not to trust the individual. Finally, as the gambler becomes alienated from family and friends, helplessness, demoralization, divorce, suicidal thoughts and other catastrophic consequences occur as the gambler hits bottom.
The majority of individuals who gamble have turbulent relationship with their family and children and break ups are common. Many lose their jobs and almost all savings are wasted away.
There is no magical bullet cure for gambling addiction. Psychological, cognitive, behavioral and relaxation therapy either singly or in combination are required to deal with this disorder. It is essential that the person concerned acknowledges the progressive illness and shows a strong desire to stop his activity. Denial always results in failure of therapy. Like smoking, the gambling addict should never gamble again. A major change in lifestyle is required and constant therapy is required to prevent the destructive behavior to re occur. Therapy is long and may take years and professional counseling with Gambling Anonymous is a prerequisite. Gambling addiction, like alcoholism, is an illness, and should be treated as such.
Triggers such as alcohol and drugs should be strictly avoided. Those with associated depression, anxiety, mania and obsessive compulsive disorders, should be treated with drug therapy.
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