How to recognise you have a gambling problem

We Irish have a long-held love affair with The Cheltenham Festival, which takes place from March 12-15th this year. More than 20,000 spectators will flock to the festival, while thousands more will pack out pubs to watch the action unfold.

It’s estimated that Irish race fans could splurge up to €100 million on the four days, emphasising the popularity of taking a punt on the horses.

Unfortunately, for problem gamblers — either in active addiction or recovery — this time of year is an absolute nightmare as it’s everywhere. It is practically impossible to listen to any radio station, read a newspaper, or watch the TV without hearing talk of gambling at this time of year. Outside of St Stephen’s Day (the busiest day of the year) Cheltenham is top priority and bookies will do anything to get you in the door.

Of course, Cheltenham and horse racing is only one form of gambling, a multi-billion-euro industry with the marketing pockets to lure you in. From scratch cards and casinos, to online betting and huge sporting events, the temptation is everywhere.

Gambling becomes addictive – quickly

Gambling can start out as a perfectly controlled activity. However, it can quickly become an issue for your well-being — both in relationships and financially speaking — if you’re not watching for warning signs.

Like many addictive behaviours, the problem with gambling addiction isn’t the gambling itself — it’s how an individual responds to that activity. In fact, someone with a gambling addiction experiences the same effects in the brain as someone who is an alcoholic.

Gambling alters a person’s mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behaviour attempting to achieve that same effect. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before.

The warning signs of a gambling addiction

If you or a loved one display these signs, it might be time to seek guidance from an addiction treatment centre or professional.

  • You’re constantly thinking about gambling
  • You find yourself needing to bet more money, and bet more often, to get the same thrill you did when you started gambling
  • You experience restlessness or irritability when you try to stop gambling
  • You chase losses in attempts to recoup your money
  • Despite mounting financial woes and even perhaps struggles with loved ones, you can’t stop the urge to continue gambling
  • You get a thrill from taking big gambling risks
  • You relive past gambling experiences
  • You conceal or lie about gambling
  • You feel guilt or remorse after gambling
  • You borrow money or steal it in order to keep funding your gambling habit

In addition to the toll it can take on relationships, a gambling addiction can also greatly impact your budget and financial picture.

Gambling’s effect on finances

According to the US National Council on Problem Gambling in a paper titled “Problem Gamblers and Their Finances”, someone who becomes addicted to gambling will go through three main stages: The winning phase (when they discover gambling is exciting); the losing phase (when their losses begin to pile up) and the desperation phase (when the gambler finds themselves in dire financial straits in order to keep funding their compulsion to gamble). As those stages progress, the gambler’s perception of money mutates.

Money is no longer a means for achieving goals, having financial freedom, or for establishing security. “Instead, money to the gambler has only one value: to enable the gambler to keep gambling, to stay ‘in action’,” the paper explains.

Gambling devastates relationships and families

The entire family suffers as a result of the behaviour and thinking of the gambling addict. Serious financial, psychological, emotional, social and legal problems may completely undermine family functioning to the point of collapse.

Trying to deal with the stress and tension brought on as a result of the gambler’s behaviour jeopardises the bond among family members. When the spouse, children, siblings and other family members can no longer trust the gambler, feel no sense of security, have no confidence in the gambler or even fear for their future, the result is a breakdown in the family relationships.

Endless lies, staying out late or not coming home at all, threats, manipulation and violence or domestic abuse all contribute to the dissolution of family ties.

Shame, avoidance of friends, secrecy and trying to hide the pain further magnify the isolation the family members feel as the gambler’s behaviour gets more and more out of control.

Emotional devastation

Inevitably the spouse of the problem or compulsive gambler tries to pick up the slack. Often the spouse makes excuses to friends and other family members, including children, about the behaviour and whereabouts of the gambler. The web of deceit becomes more and more intricate as the spouse tries to hold everything together, trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy despite everything falling apart.

Anxiety, guilt, shame, depression, insomnia, behavioural problems and emotional insecurity begin to afflict all the family members that are closest to or living in the same environment as the problem or compulsive gambler.

Gambling and dependency

Some problem and compulsive gamblers have more than one dependency. It is commonly accepted that individuals with one type of addiction often have others as well. This may be an addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs, pharmaceutical drugs used for non medical purposes, or other type of substance. Just because someone gambles, however, doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be addicted to something else, but the patterns of behaviour are already established.

There are, of course, many gamblers who do not become otherwise addicted, saying that no other activity or substance gives them the kind of euphoria, excitement or ‘high’ that gambling does.

What can be done

Seek help and take the initiative. You don’t need to go through this alone. There are thousands of others out there who are in the same situation. Start with your GP, who can recommend and refer you to appropriate treatments and services for both the person with addiction and their family. Or give us a call at Tabor Group and we will guide you through the various options for residential treatment.

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or you believe a loved one is, Tabor Group can help. With decades of experience in dealing with gambling addiction, you will be in safe and confidential hands.

Tabor Group

Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services click here.