Gambling Addiction Symptoms
Gambling provides you with the opportunity to do in minutes what it might take you a lifetime to achieve in any other way. If you hold the right cards or roll the dice in precisely the right way, you might walk away with the same amount of money you’d earn after weeks or months of work. The lure of the chase and the idea of a big score can be intoxicating, and it’s common for people to base their vacation plans around gambling destinations. It can be a fun and interesting way to spend the time.
For some people, however, gambling is more than just a diversion. In a story about gambling addiction published in the Las Vegas Sun, a recovering gambling addict describes the issue this way: “When I [gamble], triggers go off in my brain differently than for other people. I don’t understand why it happens to me. There could be a genetic component. But the determining factor is me, not the machine.” In other words, for some people, gambling seems to start of a series of chain reactions that lead right to addiction. The games aren’t to blame, as many people can play without growing addicted. But, for you, gambling might quickly move from the realm of game to the realm of pain.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5 percent of Americans struggle with gambling issues. The disorder isn’t defined by how often you gamble or by how often you win or lose. Instead, the condition has much more to do with why you gamble, and how you feel about that gambling. People who gamble often do so for fun or recreation. They may be completely engaged in the game while it’s in progress, cheering over their wins and gritting their teeth when they lose. They may have fast heart rates, sweaty skin and dilated pupils while the game is being played. In the moment, it might be extremely difficult to differentiate those who are addicted from those who are not.
But when the game is over, the differences begin to appear. People who aren’t addicted to gambling might walk away from the table with their winnings, or slink away due to heavy losses, and then move on to eat a great dinner or see a show. They might go through the following days or weeks without thinking about gambling at all. But if you’re addicted, you can’t put thoughts of gambling out of your mind. You might feel a desperate urge to gamble again. If you lost, you’re desperate to make up those losses. If you win, you’re certain you can play again and win even more.
All-consuming thoughts concerning gambling are considered a hallmark of addiction. You might have this symptom if you:
- Feel cravings to gamble when you see images of gambling
- Think about gambling when you’ve had a terrible day
- Feel an urge to gamble when you’ve had a great day
- Dream about gambling
- Plan your day around gambling
*Gambling and Parkinson’s Disease
Some people who take medications for Parkinson’s disease develop symptoms of gambling disorders. According to a summary of the issue published in JAMA, these disorders are often tied to one specific medication, and they tend to disappear when the people affected are asked to take a different medication. If you have Parkinson’s and you’ve noticed that you can no longer control your response to gambling, talk to your doctor right away.
Lack of Control
People who gamble occasionally might be able to stop gambling altogether, if they don’t have the money to do so or if they’ve found something else they’d prefer to do instead. People who are addicted to gambling, on the other hand, are unable to control their gambling behavior. As soon as they think about gambling, they’re making plans to go gambling. It’s as if you’re hijacked by your gambling urges. There may be a scientific reason for this behavior. When you gamble and win, your brain releases a flood of feel-good chemicals that cause you to feel happy and euphoric. People who gamble repetitively tend to win on occasion, and when they do, they feel a huge surge of these chemicals. Over time, they can become addicted to the chemicals, and this can cause persistent changes in the way their brains operate and look in brain scans. According to a study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, people who gamble repeatedly have changes in the size and shapes of their brains, and those changes are more prevalent the more the people gamble. It can be an endless loop. Gambling causes changes that make gambling more likely. It can be a hard cycle to break.
Symptoms of a lack of control over gambling can include:
- Gambling while at work
- Spending rent money or grocery money on gambling
- Gambling for much longer than you had planned to gamble
- Gambling instead of sleeping
- Attempting to stop gambling, and finding you’re unable to do so
*Chasing the Big Win
People who are addicted to gambling often find that they need to score bigger and bigger wins in order to feel the same level of contentment. Where winning even a few dollars once brought you joy, you might find that small wins like that now simply make you impatient. As your brain becomes more and more acclimated to the feel-good chemicals released during a win, you’ll need to produce even bigger wins and bigger releases of chemicals to impress your sedated brain. In time, it might be difficult, if not impossible, to produce wins that are big enough to provide you with the mental boost you crave.
Impacting Your Life
A gambling addiction can take a deep and heavy toll on your life. As your decisions begin to revolve around gambling, and your actions become harder and harder to control, your life may feel as though it is spiraling out of control. These symptoms can include:
- Spending your savings or all of your paycheck on gambling
- Running up your credit cards to pay for gambling
- Stealing to cover your debts
- Losing your job due to absenteeism or theft
- Losing your friendships or relationships due to gambling
- Contemplating suicide due to gambling
According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, people with gambling addictions are often from low economic statuses, and they are often unemployed. It’s unclear whether these conditions were caused by the gambling addiction, or these conditions made the idea of gambling more attractive in the first place. It is clear, however, that gambling can have a serious impact on finances. If money is already tight for your family and you’re spending money on gambling, this could make your family’s already precarious situation so much worse. If you had money but you lose your job due to gambling, you could take your family from a place of prosperity to poverty in just a few days of losses.
*Spotting Gambling Triggers
People who develop addictions to gambling tend to feel a surge in cravings to gamble when they’re exposed to gambling-related cues. These triggers can include:
- Lottery tickets
- Sporting events
- Board games
- Company gambling, such as March Madness brackets
A Gambling Self-Test
This article contains a variety of tools you can use to spot a gambling addiction. It might also be helpful to consider this concise list of 10 questions provided by the National Council on Problem Gambling:
- Do you gamble longer than you had planned to do so?
- Do you gamble until you have no money left?
- Have you lost sleep due to gambling?
- Have you let bills go unpaid so you have money left for gambling?
- Have you tried, and failed, to stop gambling?
- Have you broken the law, or thought about breaking the law, in order to keep gambling?
- Have you borrowed money for gambling?
- Have you felt depressed due to gambling?
- Do you feel remorse about your gambling?
- Have you gambled to obtain money to pay bills?
Answering “yes” to multiple questions on this list could indicate that a gambling addiction has taken hold in your life. With therapy and support, you can recover. Make an appointment to discuss the issue openly and honestly with your doctor, or contact us today for a referral to a treatment program. You’ll soon be enrolled in a top exclusive inpatient addiction treatment program that can help you to overcome this issue and put your life back together.
In therapy for a gambling addiction, you’ll learn a significant amount about how to control your urges. There are some things you can do right now to help start your therapy on the right foot:
- Tell someone close to you about your addiction. Your spouse, your best friend or your parent might be willing to go with you to your appointment. They might also be willing to just listen if you need to talk about your addiction.
- Surrender your cash and credit cards. Keeping money close to you isn’t a great idea, as it’s likely that you’ll use that money for gambling. Give those items to your spouse, or place them in a secure spot.
- Write down your reasons for quitting. When you’re tempted to gamble, review that list to give your motivation a jump-start.
- Practice relaxation. Try listening to soothing music, taking a bath, or just closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. These techniques may ease the stress you feel over cutting back on gambling.
- Steer clear of triggers. Cancel your online gaming accounts, and find driving routes home that don’t take you past your old gambling haunts.
- Find something you enjoy. Gambling may have taken up a significant amount of your time, and you might feel at loose ends as you recover. Try reading, knitting, working on cars or walking the dog.
- Tell your gambling pals you are no longer gambling. This will cut down on invitations to gamble which could tempt you to relapse.