Gambling addiction is often seen to be some form of a ‘hidden illness’ since there are no apparent physical symptoms that would otherwise show up in substance addictions. Gamblers may have a problem without spiralling completely out of control but problem gamblers, on the other hand, engage in behaviour that undeniably disrupts their life. The first, and biggest, step is simply realizing that one has a problem.
More and more people contacting helplines or seeking treatment have cited EGMs (Electronic Gaming Machines) as their main form of gambling, on an international level. Incidentally, EGMs also happen to be the method most likely to lead to problem gambling over other any other form of gambling. Newly established NGO, Safer Gaming, has cited casino and slot machine games as being a particularly addictive form of entertainment.
The thing that sets gambling addictions apart from drug addictions is that they have more to do with a lack of impulse control rather than a substance based disorder. Indeed, the Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) observed the rising issue of problem gambling in the USA, identifying problem gambling as much more common than alcohol dependence. Throughout the last decade, over 80% of Americans gamble each year and at least 5% of those develop a serious gambling problem. In fact, around 750,000 of U.S. youth between the ages of 14 and 21 struggle with problem gambling.
Based on the study by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the risk of developing a gambling addiction doubles for youths in college settings. Moreover, statistics have shown a link between serious gambling addictions and the probability of engaging in criminal activity. At least 50% of individuals struggling with gambling problems go on to commit crimes to sustain their addiction.
Gambling a life away
There are countless ways in which gambling problems could harm an individual and their family. Financially speaking, once problem gambling begins to dip into the family’s savings, their belongings and their property are also at risk of being lost simply to support the individual’s addiction. This, in turn, could bring about strong feelings of animosity between family members, leading to the emotional turmoil and shame that only worsens the situation. The problem is a lot more difficult to resolve when the individual is completely isolated and is missing the support they desperately need.
It is no surprise, then, that families under such pressure struggle to cope, particularly when children are involved. The child may begin to feel forgotten, angry, and depressed, thinking that they are the root of the problem. Family violence could also arise in light of gambling problems, in the form of physical or emotional abuse towards the partner or their children.
Furthermore, problem gambling has its impact on an even deeper level. The psychiatric co-morbidities involved could include anxiety, depression and potentially any sort of substance dependence.
Regrettably, treatment for problem gambling seems to be far less successful than substance abuse treatments, mostly due to the lack of pharmacological treatment to prevent relapses that is available for drug addicts and alcoholics. Without any suitable pharmacological treatment, there is no way to prevent an individual from gambling online or visiting casinos.
The main goal of treatment is to get rid of the overpowering craving of wanting to be in a state of gambling trance, ultimately helping the addict regain control over their own emotions and actions to a level of stability.