Eternal Question: Is Gambling an Illness?

For a long time, gambling has been considered one of the most insidious vices, mostly because it gives the illusion of quick and easy money. This has sometimes led to financial ruin. But is gambling an illness?

Gambling by itself is neither an issue nor an illness. You will meet a lot of people who partake in gambling activities such as playing video slot machines and poker from time to time. Gambling can be considered fun from the thrill that stems from it; the thrill of risk. However, this thrill-seeking behavior can easily turn out to be addictive.

Eternal Question: Is Gambling an Illness?

Were you to place a slot machine in a gamblers garage at their home, and leave them to enjoy themselves to the game, it would only take a short time before they lost interest in the machine altogether. But interestingly, you will still find them heading back to a casino to play the same game they left at home!

This is simply because it is not only the idea of winning that motivates but also the risk of losing. Playing a slot machine back at home does not give the same idea of winning or losing as a casino does. Therefore, if the risk is lacking, there won’t be any thrill either.

When Does Gambling Become a Problem?

Taking a glass of wine as an example, gambling is not an illness any more than taking a glass of your favorite wine is. Treating yourself to a glass of wine from time-to-time doesn’t make you an alcoholic. The same applies to gambling. However, drinking a gallon of wine daily would be considered a problem, and so is gambling.

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It is all about the degree of activity. So if you spend $100 a couple of times a year, it is understandable. But if you gamble $100 daily, then we would say that you’ve got a psychological-emotional dependency or as it is commonly referred – an addiction! But of course, we would have to factor that the $100 daily is a strain on your livelihood.

As some people are not mentally strong enough to accept the facts, gambling can quickly impact both their family and personal welfare. This can quickly escalate to failing to pay rent/mortgage, bills, utilities, or even plunging into debt. The house always wins, and in the long run, you will lose. Whereas Gambling is not an illness, gambling addiction is.

Gambling Addiction is an Illness

Other names used to refer to gambling addiction include compulsive gambling, pathological gambling, and gambling disorder.

When someone is suffering from gambling addiction, they have an impulse-control disorder. This means that they can’t control the impulse to gamble even when it is consequential to self or loved ones. It doesn’t matter whether they are broke or loaded, individuals with gambling addiction keep on gambling, regardless of the consequences their acts may land them.

It doesn’t matter whether the odds are clearly against them. These individuals keep on chasing after their losses, often using sacred money they should not afford to lose.

Many people ailing from gambling addiction do not accept that they have a problem until it is too late. Their gambling addiction soon leads them to financial problems, relationships with loved ones become affected, work problems, and even at times potential legal issues.

It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that individuals suffering from this illness will try to lie to their loved ones to try and cover up for their actions.

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

Similar to many other problems, gambling addiction illness may stem from a combination of environmental, genetic, and biological factors. The causes of gambling addiction are but not limited to;

  • Desperation for money
  • Desire to experience gambling thrills and highs
  • The entertaining atmosphere from the gambling scene
  • The social status which comes from being a successful gambler

Symptoms/Signs of Someone with Gambling Addiction

As aforementioned, individuals ailing from compulsive gambling are often living in denial and are unlikely to admit that they have a gambling problem. If you suspect yourself to be suffering from gambling addiction, it is only through brutal honesty that you will be able to cross-examine yourself.

To diagnose someone with gambling addiction, gambling disorder, or compulsive gambling, the individual should have a minimum of four symptoms stated below within 12 months;

  • Restlessness or irritability when attempting to reduce or stop gambling.
  • Gambles with increasing amounts of money so as to get the desired excitement.
  • Has repeatedly made futile efforts to control or stop gambling.
  • Being often preoccupied with gambling thoughts, such as frequently reliving past gambling experiences, always thinking of the next ventures, and being always trapped with thoughts on where to get money for the next gambling activity.
  • Resorting to gambling whenever with feelings of distress such as helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression.
  • Continuously chasing after losses through more gambling.
  • Repeated lying behavior to hide the extent of gambling.
  • Relying on other people to provide money so as to relieve oneself from desperate financial situations stemming from gambling activities.
  • Has in the past lost or jeopardized a serious relationship, education, career, or job opportunity because of gambling.

Is there Treatment for Gambling Addiction?

Yes, there’s a treatment to help alleviate the gambling problem. It is important to keep in mind that going for professional treatment isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather a strong display of confidence. Thus such individuals suffering from gambling addiction should be showered with as much love and support possible.

Since it’s more of a physiological problem and each gambling addict is unique, they follow a recovery program that is tailored to meet the specific needs of the situation. A mental health professional or doctor could talk of different treatment options such as;

  1. In-patient and Rehab Programs: this program is directed to individuals with severe gambling addiction and are unable to avoid gambling without 24/7 support.
  2. Treatment for the Underlying conditions that may have contributed to gambling addiction: This may include substance abuse and mental health conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, or OCD.
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): It focuses on helping change unhealthy gambling behaviors and thought patterns. This also includes changing rationalizations and beliefs.
  4. Family therapy, marriage, credit, and career counseling: This aims at helping the ailing individual work through the specific issues resulting in gambling addiction. It also helps lay the foundation to repair relationships and financial problems arising from gambling addiction.

How to Help a Gambling Addict

If you believe that you’ve found someone with a gambling problem, there are a few steps that you may take to help them.

  • Assist them in coming to the realization and admitting that they have a gambling problem.
  • Be trustworthy enough such that they can talk about their problem with you. If not so, find them someone they can trust to talk to such as a friend, relative, or a health specialist.
  • Steer them away from situations or locations that may tempt them to gamble.
  • Assist them in taking control of how they spend their money so that they do not overspend it on gambling.
  • Guide and support them each day as it comes. Be patient enough as things will not improve right away.
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