Hobby Or Compulsion?

Be it weekly bingo games or high stakes poker, many people can enjoy gambling without developing problems beyond the sting of disappointment or annoyance of losing a little money. But for some, gambling poses a serious problem with dire consequences. Also known as pathological or compulsive gambling, gambling addiction can affect all aspects of a person's life, from causing the loss of a job, personal property, or an important relationship, to pushing the gambler into illegal activity that results in jail time. The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 5 percent of Americans suffer from pathological and/or problem gambling, with 3 to 8 percent of adolescents developing problems with gambling even before they reach adulthood. Knowing what to look for can empower individuals and their loved ones to recognize a gambling addiction and seek professional help before too much damage has been done.

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Major Signs And Symptoms

  • Preoccupation with gambling: Constantly thinking or talking about gambling are signs of addiction, especially if the person frequently spends time reliving past gambling experiences or looking ahead to the next gambling opportunity.
  • Lying about gambling: Hiding one's gambling habits and minimizing gambling activity to others indicates problem behavior. If a person behaves as though his/her gambling is a problem, it likely is.
  • Increasing risk level: As with substance addictions, needing a bigger and bigger “fix" is a sign of a serious gambling problem. Pathological gamblers find they must take greater risks as time goes on to achieve the same level of satisfaction from gambling.
  • Borrowing money: Gambling with money a person doesn't have – or needs for other areas of life – reveals misplaced priorities indicative of gambling addiction.
  • Engaging in criminal behavior: Stealing to support gambling activities and using forgery or fraud to obtain the means to gamble suggest that gambling has become more important than personal safety and sovereignty.
  • Gambling to escape problems: Instead of gambling for the enjoyment of gambling itself, an addict might do so to try to block out, get rid of, or change negative emotions or situations in his life.
  • Inability to stop: Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on or quit gambling can illuminate the fact that the person is no longer in control of her habit.
  • Spending work, school, or family time on gambling: Gambling at work or school, skipping family activities, or avoiding important aspects of life to spend time gambling suggests that gambling has become disproportionately important to the individual, pointing to a greater problem.
  • Feeling bad about gambling: When combined with other signs and symptoms on this list, feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and/or anxiety that relate to gambling indicate the behavior has gone from something healthy and enjoyable to something destructive.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of problem gambling is the first step towards seeking help and overcoming an addiction. Though the widespread availability and social acceptability of gambling may make this addiction seem especially difficult, proper diagnosis and treatment can provide the chance for recovery and a more fulfilling life.