Gambling Addiction: How Can I Stop?

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Gambling image Gambling is a form of entertainment that can potentially put consumers at risk.

Gambling is addictive and can seriously harm the health of compulsive gamblers and put their families at emotional and financial risk. Today, having a gambling addiction is more common than ever before.

Here are some recent statistics from the gambling commission highlighting the issue:

  • 68% of men and 61% of women have participated in online gambling in the past 12 months
  • There are over 450,000 people in the UK with some sort of gambling addiction
  • According to research from the National Centre for Responsible Gaming, it is estimated that around 50 to 75% of  former gambling addicts will relapse

What is gambling addiction?

A gambling addiction, pathlogical gambling or Ludomania is the constant urge to gambe despite the negative consequences of playing and the desire to stop. It is sometimes referred to as a “Hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms.

In 2013, pathological gambling was officially declared an addiction compared to before when it was classified as a compulsion. When we begin to gamble certain parts of our brain are triggered with a big win or with a loss. Research shows that gamblers who experience a substantial win during their first three months of gambling are more likely to have an addiction they those who do not.

There are 5 stages of compulsive gambling:

  • Stage one – Winning
  • Stage two- Losing
  • Stage three – Desperation
  • Stage four- Hopelessness
  • Stage five- Recovery

Games of Skill Vs Games of Chance

a gambling addictionThe addictiveness of games of chance compared to games of skill vary greatly. For example, games of chance like slot machines are particularly favourable to addiction.

The very simplicity of its principle and repetitive nature of the game can easily lead a player to be hypnotized and as almost complete lines of symbols reoccur regularly they give a feeling of hope and ‘what if.'

Games of skill like poker and black jack require mental and physical skills and therefore do not pose as much as an addictive threat.

How does gambling addiction start?

When we gamble the reward system in our brain link different brain regions together like our memory, movement, pleasure and motivation. The neurons in the reward system release a chemical dopamine, into these area's which gives us the feeling of satisfaction and encouraging us to make a habit.

When stimulated by amphetamine, cocaine or other addictive drugs, the reward system disperses up to 10 times more dopamine than usual. Recent research shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking.

Just as substance addicts require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures.

What constitutes risky behaviour while playing?

Risky behaviour while playing poker could possibility lead to an addiction and can be identified by the following:

  • Lying about how much time you spend playing
  • Lying about how much money you spend playing
  • If you play for 3 hours of more a day

Risk levels in the game

Risk is a fundamental factor of gambling as it contributes to the excitement of the game. It is necessary for players to know how to measure the risk factor associated with playing different types of casino and card games. As the bigger the risk the easier it is for players to fall into the trap of addiction.

There are different levels of risk associated with each type of game. These risk levels separates games that are a positive and social activity to the games that could possibly create a serious pathological problem.

The different levels of risk are stated below:

Gambling low risk games

Gambling games that are considered low risk are games played with family or family, in a friendly environment and for the main purpose of fun and enjoyment.

Playing for small amounts of money, normally betting with cents is considered low risk as well, even though the money adds an extra excitement factor to the low risk games.

Gambling high risk games

High risk gambling games are those where the main goal is financial gain. These include casino games and semi-professional or professional level poker tournaments which involve huge sums of money and contributes to the high level of risk.

Taking part in these types of games can result in players needing to borrow money from family, friends, financial institutions or in illegal ways like through a loan shark.

Gambling games with an extremely high risk

This category of risk is the most problematic as it is difficult to distinguish the signs of risky behaviour. The category is associated with a physiological or emotional reason causing the gambling addiction and is completely separate from financial gain. The players normally continues to gamble in order to combat stress, loneliness, depression or maybe to avoid facing a personal problem or just to feel socially accepted.

How to avoid addiction?

In order to avoid addiction there are certain precautions that players can take such as:

  1. Define your maxium gambling budget before you start playing so that you only bring the amount of money you can afford to lose. Furthermore, do not make ATM trips when gambling and it is not a good idea to borrow from others.
  2. Limit your gambling time so that you only spend a certain amount of time at the tables. Its also a good idea to take regular breaks just to not get caught up and lose track of how much time and money you have spent

However, these principles alone are not enough to completely protect someone from falling into an addiction.


gambling-addictionAn addiction to gambling is just as serious as having a dependence on alcohol or drugs.

The player cannot help letting the addiction grow and continually ‘consumes' the game until it controls the player.

Here are some of the symptoms, when felt together or felt intensely highlight a risk of addiction to gambling:

  • Constant obsession with the game
  • Continuously increasing bets to feel more adrenaline
  • Resolutions to play less and bet less money are often unfulfilled
  • Using the game to escape difficulties at work or personal problems
  • Lying about gambling frequency and amounts of money you spent to the people closet to you
  • Borrowing money from friends or institutions to play
  • Endangering emotional relationships and employment status because of gambling

Where to get help?

The contact information for organizations that can help you or your someone you know deal with addiction are as follows:

In the UK:

National Problem Gambling Clinic 

4th Floor, Soho Centre for Health & Care,

1 Frith Street,

London W1D 3HZ

Phone: 020 7534 6699 or 020 7534 6599

Gamblers Anonymous Gamblers Anonymous which is available as online help here

In the USA:

National Council on Problem Gambling

730 11th St, NW, Ste 601

Washington, DC 20001

Phone 202.547.9204 Fax 202.547.9206

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