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Uncontrollable gambling 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 Uncontrollable gambling include:

  • Gambling behaviours, such as chasing losses, spending more time and money on gambling than intended, and making repeated but failed attempts to stop gambling.
  • Interpersonal problems, such as gambling-related arguments with family members, friends or work colleagues, relationship break downs, or lack of time spent with family.
  • Job and study problems, such as poor work performance, lost time at work or studies, and resignations or sacking due to gambling.
  • Financial effects, such as large debts, unpaid borrowings, and financial hardship for the individual or family members.
  • Legal problems, especially related to theft of funds, embezzlement, fraud or other ways to access money illegally, related to the need to gamble or retrieve gambling losses.
  • Personal and psychological characteristics, such as difficulties in controlling expenditure; anxiety, depression or guilt over gambling; use of gambling as an escape from boredom, stress or depression; thinking about gambling for much of the time; and giving up formerly important social or recreational activities in order to gamble.
  • Lying to others to conceal the extent of gambling.
  • Preoccupation increasing, progression of mental obsessiveness with gambling.
  • Gradual loss of control, increasing inability to resist urges to gamble or to curtail gambling.
  • Gambling addiction gets worse over time and can have devastating and far-reaching effects on the gambler and the people close to them.

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:

Acquaintance stage
  • Initial gambling experiences
  • Apparent control
Recreational stage
  • Comfortable passing of time, excitement and entertainment
  • Apparent control
Winning stage
  • Initial period of winning which elicits a good feeling
  • Begins to continue playing in order to win more, psychological dependence begins
  • Control starts slipping
Losing stage
  • 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
Critical stage
  • 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
Desperate stage
  • 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
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
Hopeless stage
  • Total financial and emotional breakdown
  • Loss of social supports and work
  • Often successful suicide attempts
  • Jail or death