How to Identify the Early Stages of Gambling Disorder
Are You a Gambling Addict?
Common sense states that someone whose never gambled is not going to end up with a gambling addiction.
But for those that have, then try to imagine that first gambling experience as a seed. Does it stay dormant or does it eventually germinate and grow into something lethal?
Many of us already planted that seed when we took a stab at gambling, but what does it mean to gamble?
The term gambling means risking money or collateral for a higher reward.
The risks could be very fair or extremely one-sided depending on the money at stake and the games played.
Even as a kid if you decide to risk one of your toys for a better one through a game of chance or skill, then you are technically engaging in gambling. It might not seem like much, but it could play a significant role when you get older.
But how about this scenario...
Imagine you've never gambled before, but when you reached the age of 21 your friends persuaded you to gamble for the first time at a casino.
Odds are that after playing a few games you'll end up perfectly fine, but it might be better to lose the first time than win.
How the First Win Can Lead to Addiction
There's nothing pleasurable about losing money or something valuable, and luckily first time gamblers quickly realize this and stop.
But what if the first time you gamble, you end up winning instead...Would it change how you felt about gambling?
The answer is a resounding YES!
If you're at a casino and start hearing those bells ring, then they'll be this rush of adrenaline that's rarely experienced. The bigger the prize, the greater the sensation.
That first reward, if substantial, is akin to watering that seed I discussed in the opening paragraph, which may cause it to germinate.
So what happens after you win for the very first time. Do you stop playing, claim your winnings, or do you decide to take another stab at it?
When Should You Stop?
If you've ever watched a game show, then you'll know what I'm talking about.
In game shows, you play for a certain amount of time until the risk grows greater and greater. That risk correlates with a rapid rise in prizes and money you could win.
How much free money are you willing to risk before walking away?
Shows like "Deal or no Deal" and "Press Your Luck" have been poster child's for games where people refuse to stop, which leaves them getting burnt.
For example, a contestant on Deal or no Deal had to choose from two suitcases with one having a million dollars and the other a dollar.
The offer was nearly split down the middle, and they had the option to either take the offer or attempt to pick the winning case. This contestant foolishly decided to go for it and ended up losing everything (well except the dollar).
Would you quit while you're ahead and use common sense?
A gambling addict wouldn't stop, but even a stable person might take a risk and go for it. Just because the contestant went for the million and lost doesn't mean they had a gambling addiction.
In the contestant's case, his actions were likely controlled by emotion and adrenaline. I mean he could have won a huge amount of money that was more than double the offer.
The audience, who were hollering and screaming, weren't helping either. They weren't risking anything so it was fun for them.
In this example compulsion was at fault, not addiction, however; it can be a stepping stone towards a gambling addiction.
How Much Does Losing Bother You?
One of the precursors towards a gambling addiction is your emotional response after a loss.
Often the greater the emotional response, the less likely you are to develop an addiction.
When losing sickens and depresses you, then the urge to keep playing subsides (not always). However gamblers tend to absolve their losses by giving into more gambling, which likely results in an even greater losses.
In fact that's one of the biggest signs to look for in a gambling addict. It's what the caution messages at casinos or lottery tickets stress when they tell you to call a number if you suspect "so and so" might have a gambling problem/addiction.
The thing is that people who are addicted will not let something like losing bother them too much, which is incredibly dangerous. Those with emerging gambling behaviors will not care if they keep losing because those few wins make up for how badly they may feel after losing.
As with any addiction, that feeling you get when you win impacts your brain, which is on par with other addictions such as caffeine or drugs/alcohol.
It gets to a point where what you win doesn't matter as much as the feeling of winning itself.
Gambling Addiction Signs and Symptoms
There are several signs that indicate you might have a gambling problem.
They may not always be obvious or immediately correlate to gambling, but you should be on the lookout if a combination of these symptoms emerge:
- Excess lying, secrecy, and irritability
- Steep decline in bank account/funds
- Consistent thoughts of gambling
- Daily purchases of lottery tickets or online gambling
- Dependency on others financially
- Declination of past hobbies and interests
- Drop in social activity/loss of relationships
The disappearance of money and lowering funds are strong signs that there's something going on even if it's not directly related to gambling.
At the very least It can help identify the problems someone might be dealing with.
Gambling Treatment and Support
If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing early signs of a gambling addiction, then you need to seek treatment immediately because there's no telling how far a person will go.
People have been know to lose their jobs, homes, or end up homeless due to this addiction.
As with most compulsive and psychological disorders like body dysmorphic disorder, the best method of treatment is either cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or prescribed medication (or both).
At the beginning of this article I've mentioned how planting a seed in tantamount to how things will evolve in the future. Unlike the seed of a plant, this is one seed you don't want to water, feed, and let grow.
The best way to prevent this is either by never planting that seed in the first place or setting specified limits if you do gamble.
If you gamble, then do it sporadically and have others present. Surrounding yourself with friends, family, and acquaintances while going to a casino can sharply decrease how much money you spend.
Having a strong support system is critical to preventing a problem and intervening when it begins to get out of control.
Try your hardest to never get past Stage 1 with any addiction, and please seek help when you feel yourself or someone you know is beginning to slip.
Don't end up broke, poor, and homeless because of a compulsive behavior you've always had the power to stop.