You don’t need to lose everything to be addicted to gambling


Every day we read about another high profile personality losing it all to gambling. How they managed to spend hundreds of thousands in a night, lost houses and cars – and quite often their family as well. And some will tut and say what a terrible addiction gambling is…before logging on to back a horse, or nipping to the shop to get a scratchcard.

You see, you don’t have to lose the shirt off your back to have a problem with gambling. You could be addicted and no-one realises – not even you. Just because the mortgage is paid and you’ve credit in your online betting account, doesn’t mean you’re not addicted.

Understanding the gambling high

The number of people who have a gambling problem is about five in every hundred. For a long time, gambling was considered a compulsive behaviour rather than an addiction. While many still refer to ‘compulsive gambling’, scientists have begun to understand that excessive gambling is more like drug addiction. Why? The biological process that happens in the brain relates to excitement and reward.

Substance addiction vs gambling addiction

Those who studied problem gambling before assumed that gambling wasn’t a true addiction because you weren’t ingesting any chemicals or alcohol. However, scientists now know that gambling changes the brain just as drug/alcohol addiction does.

A part of your brain, deep in the centre of your cranium, contains a series of circuits scientist call ‘the reward system’. The reward system releases dopamine whenever we do something to pass on our genes, or to stay alive. When we engage in addictive behaviours, the reward system releases 10 times as much dopamine as it would normally.

We feel euphoric when we light up that reward system at first, but after this system is activated over and over, our brain adapts to the excess dopamine. Now, it takes more to feel that intense pleasure. So, what do we do? Those who are genetically predisposed to addiction typically keep reaching for that high by betting more, or making riskier bets.

Are you at risk?

If you have any of the following most common characteristics of someone who becomes addicted to gambling, you need to dig deeper to find out if you do have an addiction. Even if you don’t have these characteristics, the fact that you are investigating gambling addictions probably indicates you need to learn more. You are more likely to gamble excessively if:

  • You are young to middle-aged
  • You are male
  • A family member or friend has a gambling problem
  • You have mental health disorders, including: Substance abuse, Depression, Anxiety, Personality disorder, Bipolar disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder or ADHD.
  • You’re highly competitive
  • You’re a workaholic
  • You’re usually impulsive
  • You’re restless or easily bored

Recognise the signs

Now that you know who’s most likely to become a gambling addict, you need to focus on whether you have crossed that threshold. Start by looking at the list of harmful effects that can follow when you have a gambling addiction.

  • You have trouble keeping a job
  • You have to file bankruptcy
  • You get into legal trouble
  • You’re forced to sell your home
  • You also become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Your mental and/or physical health declines
  • Your relationships suffer
  • You feel abandoned by the ones you love

Symptoms of problem gambling

You may not have lost it all, or even come close, but the following symptoms can help you break through denial and understand that you do have a gambling addiction:

  • You can’t stop thinking about gambling and how you’re going to get money for it
  • You bet more than you used to to get the same high
  • You try to stop gambling but just can’t do it on your own
  • You feel restless and irritable when you aren’t gambling
  • You gamble to escape problems
  • You gamble to overcome feelings of helplessness, guilt, depression, or anxiety
  • You chase losses by betting more in an attempt to get back what you’ve lost
  • You lie about or hide your gambling from others, especially loved ones
  • You put your relationships or work at risk because of gambling
  • You commit fraud or theft to get money
  • You rely on other people to take care of your basic needs when you’ve gambled away the money you needed to take care of them yourself.

Get treatment

Gambling addiction treatment gives you the tools and techniques to overcome your problem gambling. Treatments similar to treatment for drug addiction have proven the most effective. Gambling addiction treatment can be done on an outpatient basis. However, if your gambling addiction has taken over your life and put you or others in danger, inpatient treatment may be necessary.

Tabor Group

If you, or someone you love, is struggling with addiction, get help not only for yourself, but for your children as well.

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.