Gambling Addiction: Warning Signs and Resources

The word “addictive” is one that is sometimes casually thrown around in conversation in reference to an activity that a person greatly enjoys and returns to frequently, but for some people, addiction is a serious matter involving an actual inability to steer clear of that activity, even when the obsession is having increasingly negative consequences in that person’s life. Addiction is commonly recognized in matters of alcoholism or other substance abuse, but an equally serious problem arises for some people who suffer an addiction to gambling. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction can be critical for a gamer—or friends and family members of a gamer—who seems to take the gambling play to excessive and destructive lengths. Fortunately, there are resources available for those suffering from addiction, but the first step is to recognize and admit the addiction itself.

“Problem” gambling can rear its head in the most innocent-seeming of circumstances—not only in a casino setting, but even with items as seemingly harmless as lottery tickets or scratch cards. In truth, the single largest “red flag” that a person might be suffering from addictive tendencies with regard to gambling is any situation in which that gambling is consistently causing harm. Even the scratch lottery tickets at the grocery store can be indicative of a problem if their purchase is interfering with a person’s ability to buy the groceries. When it comes to casino play or online wagering, the stakes can rise significantly higher, and a gambling addiction—in which the gamer is truly incapable of withdrawing from the games—can lead to utter financial ruin, emotional problems, destroyed relationships, and damaged self worth.

A gambling addict is likely to feel conflicted and confused, knowing that the continued pursuit of the habit is causing destruction, and unable to understand why they still can’t resist it. But that, in a nutshell, is the nature of addiction. No amount of negative consequence is, in itself, enough to deter the addict. What’s required to overcome the addiction is an entirely different tactic, that of reaching out to a resource which can offer relief from the compulsion and its destructive results. Gamblers Anonymous is just such a resource, being a twelve-step program fashioned after the original model of Alcoholics Anonymous. Gamblers Anonymous provides, first of all, a forum where a conflicted and confused and defeated gambling addict can find the understanding of a group of people who have suffered the same demoralizing and destructive disease—and have overcome it in their own lives, with the tools offered by the program.

As far as its effect on the mind and the life of the addict, a gambling addiction is in many ways identical to a substance addiction; it may lack the specific physical effects of substance use, but the compulsion and the inability to control one’s impulses are the core symptom of any addiction, and this is no different with gambling. A problem gambler who is recognizing warning signs in their own obsessive play is often reluctant to admit the problem, and even more reluctant to reach out to a group like Gamblers Anonymous to address the problem. Any number of objections might come to mind, from the classic protest of denial (“I’m not as bad about gambling as those people,” or “I’m not an addict”) to the very basic human discomfort with the prospect of entering into an unfamiliar situation. There’s no doubt about it: the first steps a problem gambler takes into the rooms of Gamblers Anonymous may require more courage than any other action that person has ever taken.

Once the unknown threshold has been crossed, however, what waits on the other side is not a frightening or unpleasant experience at all. On the contrary, the camaraderie and support of any twelve-step Recovery group is a positive force in any person’s life, and most gambling addicts actually find relief in discovering that they are not, after all, alone with their “shameful” struggle—and that the struggle of addiction is not, in fact, a thing to be ashamed of at all. A person who recognizes an addiction and is courageous enough to take the steps toward recovery is a person to be applauded rather than reviled. In addition to the human support offered by a Recovery group, the twelve steps themselves, though they may seem mysterious and off-putting to an outsider without understanding of them, actually provide a solid foundation not only for a life free from the addiction and obsession, but full of freedom and new pleasures. If you, or a gambler you know, seem to be displaying signs of destructive obsession with regard to gambling, take heart in knowing that there is a solution available.

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