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Gambling Addiction has gained more prominence over the last 2 decades, especially due to the availability of casinos and online gambling in our society.
Problem gambling refers to all gambling behaviour that has disrupting effects on family, social and work life.
Changes in brain function have been seen in research of addictive gamblers. Chronic gambling has chemical consequences in the human brain, which leads to altered pathways of neurotransmitters especially dopamine, resulting in a physiological dependence such as those seen in substance addictions.
Signs of Gambling Addiction include:
Gambling addiction gets worse over time and can have devastating and far reaching effects on the gambler and the people close to them.
The following stages of gambling addiction can often be seen:
- Initial gambling experiences
- Apparent control
- Comfortable passing of time, excitement and entertainment
- Apparent control
- Initial period of winning which elicits a good feeling
- Begins to continue playing in order to win more, psychological dependence begins
- Control starts slipping
- More time spent gambling leads to increase in tolerance (hours spent gambling and episodes of gambling)
- Higher stakes and bigger losses
- Gambling with borrowed money or money meant for other expenses (rent, groceries, electricity, accounts, etc.)
- Obsessing about or becoming preoccupied with getting money for gambling
- Secret gambling: hiding gambling or the extent of gambling and expenditure from others
- Gambling is experienced as relief from all the problems that were ‘in effect’ caused by the gambling
- Promises others and self to stop
- Psychological dependence begins
- Onset of negative consequences: problems with finances, relationships and work
- Repeated failed attempts at control
- Still borrowing from others, i.e., attempting to keep withdrawal (stopping gambling) at bay
- When no more money (from borrowing or otherwise) is available, physical withdrawal is experienced: sleep disruption, agitation, low mood, irritability etc.
- Defensive rationalisation is vital e.g. I gamble because I deserve time for myself; I don’t have a gambling problem because I walked out with some money; gambling relaxes me etc.
- The gambling behaviour is now about the activity itself
- Physical dependence begins
- Criminal activity to fund gambling, i.e. fraud, embezzlement, stealing from family or friends
- Severe relationship or marital problems
- Missing work either to gamble or to recover from gambling because of lack of sleep etc.
- Still thinks of self as a winner and that s/he can “make the losses/ money back”
- Tolerance affected by availability of money, feelings of desperation about availability of money with which to gamble
- Having dreams at night of gambling
- Suicidal thoughts
- Total financial and emotional breakdown
- Loss of social supports and work
- Often successful suicide attempts
- Jail or death