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Gambling Addiction - Identifying the Warning Signs

For most people, gambling is an enjoyable, recreational activity. However, it can develop into an uncontrollable dependency for a significant minority. Much like alcoholism, psychological, physical, social and vocational problems can result from addictive gambling, leading to anxiety, depression and suicide. Gambling addiction has wider social and economic implications, too, including increased domestic violence and crime.

According to a recent survey, Great Britain was found to have relatively high rates of gambling participation in comparison with other areas. The British Gambling Prevalence Survey of 2007 indicated that some 68% of all adults aged 16 years or older had participated in some type of gambling activity during the past year. The statistics seem to indicate that the rate may be on the rise, too, particularly in the under-24 age segment; they see professional sports sponsored by gambling companies and gambling products advertised on television, while top poker players are made out to be celebrities.

Fortunately, the incidence of gambling addiction in Britain—estimated at 0.6%-—continues to rank quite low among the rates for other parts of the developed world. But that still means gambling has become a serious problem for more than 350,000+ Britons. As with any disorder or illness, becoming aware of the early warning signs is the most effective way of preventing its advance.

The onset of a gambling addiction may be signaled by a number of common symptoms. Among them is a constant fixation on or preoccupation with gambling. Others include wagering more frequently and in increasing amounts, wagering down to the last penny available, and the inability to stop and walk away. Also symptomatic is chasing after losses and trying to win them back, gambling on credit, using funds set aside for paying bills and living expenses, deteriorating relationships and lying to friends and family members about gambling.

GamCare is one of U.K.’s leading providers of information, advice, support and free counselling regarding how to prevent and treat problem gambling. The organisation’s U.S. counterpart is the National Council on Problem Gambling. These two groups take a non-judgmental approach to gambling addiction. They have established hotlines to help anyone interested in stopping a gambling disorder. Resources are available online, too.

In most cases, acknowledging the problem is the first step in breaking the addiction. It can be useful to conduct a self-analysis using a list of questions developed to help identify warning signs. The one that follows was based upon an interview process used by the group known as Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.).

Have you ever lost time from school or work because of gambling?
Has gambling ever made your life at home unhappy?
Has gambling caused you any difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations make you feel the urge to gamble?
Have you ever felt the urge to gamble in celebration of good fortune?
Has gambling made you careless regarding your personal welfare or that of your family?
Have you ever gambled to escape trouble, worry, loneliness or boredom?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Has gambling reduced your ambition or efficiency?
Has gambling had an affect on your reputation?
Have you ever gambled to get money to pay debts or solve financial difficulties?
After losing, have you felt compelled to return soon in order to win back the losses?
After winning, have you felt compelled to return and win more?
Have you ever gambled longer than you had planned to?
Have you often gambled until all of you money was gone?
Have you ever felt reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenses?
Have you ever sold anything or borrowed money to finance your gambling?
Have you ever committed an illegal act to finance gambling?
Have you ever considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?
Have you ever considered suicide or self-destructive behaviour as a result of gambling?
Do you think you may have a gambling problem?

G.A. says that the majority of compulsive gamblers answer “Yes” to seven or more of these questions. Recreational gamblers may also experience many of these situations without being addicted. The list is just a tool used to help identify potential problem areas and to understand the powerful influence that gambling can have on individuals.

In particular, anyone answering “Yes” to the very last may want to take the next step and seek help. GamCare offers a range of support services, from online counselling free of charge to face-to-face counselling in many parts of the U.K. Other options such as group therapy, inpatient treatment programs, psychotherapy and hypnosis may be recommended, too, depending on the level of treatment required. The most important thing is to realise help is available for anyone who seeks it.