In recent years there have been many psychological studies published on the issue of problem gambling. In response to the latest findings, governments and gambling authorities have campaigned for, and implemented, initiatives to help prevent its escalation and offer support to those suffering. Here at DogSlots we’re huge supporters of these initiatives and want all of our players to be well educated on the issue and to know where they can find help if they feel like their gambling habit has become compulsive.
While the majority of players will never develop symptoms of problem gambling, it’s always wise to be aware of the symptoms. This is especially the case if - as we’ll go over - you are a part of the demographic that are especially vulnerable to developing a compulsive gambling habit. This article will provide you with answers to what problem gambling is, its symptoms, how it can be diagnosed and the help you can receive if you feel your habit has become unmanageable.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK define problem gambling as “gambling that disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits.” This definition is quite loose, but necessarily so as problem gambling can be diagnosed based on its severity, which at its most extreme is considered to be pathological.
For this reason, the US National Library of Medicine: National Institute of Health, considers problem gambling to be a “progressive disorder”. Their definition is more comprehensive, taking account of factors that are symptomatic of problem gambling, including a loss of control, a preoccupation with gambling and obtaining money with which to gamble, a disregard of consequences, and irrational thinking.
A diagnosis of problem gambling does not depend on how much or how frequently you gamble. For one to be diagnosed as a problem gambler, their habit must result in consequences that adversely affect the following criteria:
Nonetheless, it is accurate to say that there is a correlation between those that gamble frequently and spend more on gambling than the average gambler, and the likelihood that they develop a compulsive gambling habit.
It has been found that problem gamblers erroneously believe in two, prevalent irrational fallacies:
Different organisations use alternative methods to diagnose problem gambling. One of the largest organisations set up to tackle problem gambling, Gamblers Anonymous, use a questionnaire composed of twenty questions. The organisations asks those looking for help to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following propositions:
Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until all your money was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you have planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss?
Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustration create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
You can take this questionnaire and receive feedback by going to the Gamblers Anonymous website. Once you fill in the questionnaire you will be presented with the following information: “Most compulsive gamblers will answer ‘Yes’ to at least 7 of these questions”. Providing that you answer ‘Yes’ to seven of the questions, you will have the option to speak to someone immediately, or receive information on the location of the closest Gamblers Anonymous meeting that you can attend and receive assistance in person.
As previously mentioned, pathological gambling is the most severe form of problem gambling. The differences between problem gambling and its most extreme form are nuanced and require an official diagnosis from a recognised clinician.
Generally, it is diagnosed when the subject meets at least five of the following criteria - so long as their behaviours cannot be better explained by a manic episode:
Preoccupation - You have frequent thoughts about gambling. These thoughts can be based on actual gambling experiences in the past, the desire to gamble in the future, or gambling-related fantasies.
Tolerance - You find that you need to make larger or more frequent wagers to experience the same positive, emotional rewards.
Withdrawal - Attempts to reduce or abstain from gambling causes you to feel restless and irritable.
Escape - You gamble to improve your mood or escape from problems within your personal life.
Chasing - You try to recover your losses by gambling more.
Lying - You try to hide the extent of your gambling activities from your family, friends and therapist.
Loss of Control - You have tried to reduce your time spent gambling, but you’ve been unable to.
Crime - You have broken the law in an attempt to fund your gambling habit.
Jeopardizing Relationships - Gambling has negatively affected relationships in your personal or professional life.
Bailout - You have turned to family, friends or another third-party in an attempt to seek funds for your gambling habit.
Biology - You suffer from a lack of norepinephrine.
Along with adrenaline, norepinephrine is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that increases your heart rate and stimulates your heart to pump blood. Norepinephrine increases blood pressure, breaks down fat and increases blood sugar levels to supply more energy to the body. It works in tandem with hormones that produce a positive emotion by mobilising the brain for action and improving both energy and attentiveness.
The stages of the decline into problem gambling can be separated into long-term and short-term phases. While the long-term phases trace an emotional decline, the short-term phases trace the actual gambling activity.
We’ll go over both phases to illustrate what we mean by this:
While problem gambling is not strictly pathological in its early phase, there is a pathological element to the progression of the disorder. Because of this, problem gambling can be broken down into four phases which reflect the general timeline within which one develops the disorder. According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, these four phases can be identified as follows:
While the linear path traces the decline of a subject from gambler into problem gambler, it neglects to mention the cyclical pattern that occurs every time a problem gambler turns to gambling. The cyclical pattern outlined by GamCare illustrates the typical gambling activity of a pathological gambler with reference to the subject’s emotional processes in the moment.
Becoming conscious of the following process will help you ascertain the extent of your gambling habit:
There are a variety of psychotherapeutic methods used by clinicians to help a subject recover from problem gambling.
The two most common are:
Another psychotherapeutic method that psychologists use to treat problem gambling is outlined in Dr. Jefferey Schwartz’ book, Brain Lock. Schwartz breaks down his treatment into the following four different stages:
Dealing with a problem gambler that is a friend or a member of your family can be a difficult task. If you are struggling with your gambling habit, or you suspect that a friend or family member is developing a gambling habit that qualifies as ‘problem gambling’, the American Psychiatric Association offers some helpful advice on how to tackle the problem without inexorably fracturing your relationship.
Before you confront your family or friends, consider the following tips:
If you fear that you or someone you know may have developed a problem gambling habit, there are a number of international and national sources you can go to for help.
Here’s our comprehensive list: