Gambling is fun. The adrenaline rush you feel when you’re waiting for the slot to finish spinning with real money at stake is like no other emotion you can ever feel. Unfortunately, for some people, this adrenaline rush proves addictive.
If you’ve been gambling for some time now, you probably know a person or two who have developed a gambling addiction. A person who has developed this disorder can’t gamble responsively. Much like an alcoholic, they start enjoying their vice but find themselves unable to stop.
Just like any other addiction, compulsive gambling requires destigmatization and proper treatment. If you’re someone suffering from this disorder or happen to know a person who is in need of help, this page is for you.
Here, you’ll find all the information you need on what causes gambling addiction, what are the red flags, and what organizations in Australia will help you fight it.
Causes of Gambling Addiction
What exactly causes gambling addiction? There is no clear-cut answer to this ugly question. It would be much easier if we knew one thing that leads a person to turn from a recreational gambler into an addict who can’t control themselves anymore.
While we can’t point out a single reason someone would develop an addiction to gambling, there’s definitely a scientific consensus on what are the risk factors. If you, or your friend, or a loved one belongs to one of these groups, they may be a victim of compulsive gambling.
Many people think that becoming an addict is something you have control over. Following this logic, a person who is able to keep on gambling while keeping your behavior in check is labeled good and a person who can’t is deemed to have weak willpower. In reality, however, addiction can be something you aren’t in control of.
The main risk factor here is a mental health disorder. If a person has a major mental health disorder like bipolar, OCD, or ADHD, they run a higher risk of developing a gambling disorder as well.
You can’t blame a person who has problems with their brain biochemistry of having weak willpower. There’s nothing they can do about some aspects of their behavior, and they need help.
While the following two biological factors are not as severe as mental health problems, they do correlate strongly with gambling addiction cases. These factors are age and sex, and the group that is at the riskiest cross-over is young males.
Both men and young people are overrepresented in problem gambling statistics. If a person fits both characteristics, it doesn’t mean they’re going to become a problem gambler. It only means they run a higher risk of falling into that path compared to other categories.
Nature has its say when it comes to problem gambling, but make no mistake, it’s about nurture as well. At the crossover of these two lays the personality type. Research indicates that people who are very competitive by nature, tend to be impulsive or easily bored may have a higher risk of becoming a gambling addict. The workaholic types also fall into this category.
If you’re gambling because the reality around you bores you or because you want to show the rest of the gamblers on the casino platform you’re the best, you may need to be more careful.
Depression is on the list of biological reasons because here we treat it not just as a severe mental health disorder caused by your brain’s faulty wiring but also as a condition one can acquire.
Your girlfriend leaves you, your dog dies, you enter a midlife crisis, and here it goes, you’re depressed. No matter the reason, the biggest symptom of depression is that your brain ceases to produce happy hormones as much as it did before. This is why when you’re depressed, it seems like nothing can keep you happy. It all seems bland and pointless.
This is why so many depressed people turn to high-reward activities like gambling, alcohol, or drugs. For many, these cause the only kind of fun their brains are sensitive enough to experience. No wonder these high-reward activities can be extremely addictive.
Depressed people use them as coping mechanisms instead of actually solving their problems. This is why they can’t stop doing their thing, whether it’s drinking or gambling.
As far as coping mechanisms go, substance abuse and problem gambling go hand in hand. It’s not to say there’s something wrong with drinking a coldie while enjoying your pokies sensibly. It’s just when people get really drunk, they rarely control their social behavior, let alone gambling.
No wonder that when a lot of hard liquor is put into the mix, people who have a problem with gambling in the first place can be really destructive to themselves.
Children are not very good at controlling their behavior. Before you turn 18, your brain is only developing those parts that can resist the urge of doing something risky yet rewarding. This is why many teens do things that no sensible adult would ever do.
If one of these things is gambling, it can be a hard habit to shake off. The evidence shows that people who get into gambling before 18 develop gambling problems more frequently and these problems stick with them for their whole life.
Symptoms of gambling addiction
How do you know if your loved ones are in danger? Or better yet, how do you know if you’re developing a compulsive gambling problem? Here are the biggest red flags that show you’re starting to have a problem.
You work to gamble
Your regular Aussie works hard to support themselves and their family. Sure, they may spend a tenner or two on gambling, but it’s not the most important thing in their lives. Their family is.
As you get hooked and become addicted, the biggest concern in your life is the slot machine. You don’t think about work as the source of self-realization or getting food on the table. It’s there to get you gambling money.
When your 9 to 5 job doesn’t cut it anymore, you start looking for other ways to fund your addiction.
More money for the same fun
You can gamble for free, but no problem gambler would ever settle for that. It’s not just the fun of spinning the slot, it’s the rush of adrenaline you get when you know you can lose your bet or get a huge win. When you’re suspended in that state of waiting for the outcome of a spin, you feel amazing.
The bad thing is we always get used to things, gambling is no exemption. Problem gamblers gamble so much that they get used to the adrenaline rush. As any addict, the only thing they want is the fun to continue. This is why they end up racking up the stakes to feel that rush again and again.
Win to cover the losses
Compulsive gamblers are constantly preoccupied with gambling. All their thoughts turn around getting down to another gambling session and winning a fortune. While all people would love to win a jackpot, it’s the problem gamblers who can’t stop when they’ve lost enough.
Their reasoning is you shouldn’t stop gambling just yet. You need to wait out the lackluster period and get to your more fortunate one. Then, you don’t have to face the fact that you’ve failed to stop when you should have, and can win back the losses.
In many cases, this line of reasoning leads people into immense debt.
Problem gambling is not just an issue of weak willpower. It’s an addiction akin to alcoholism or any other substance abuse. It’s so similar in symptoms that you can actually get a gambling withdrawal when you try quitting it.
Any regular Aussie can stop gambling for a bit when they have more important financial goals to meet. It will hurt because you’re giving up a fun activity, but hey, if you have more important things to spend money on, it’s no big problem.
When a gambling addict tries to stop gambling for a period of time, they can’t. They get restless and irritable just like a person who quits cigarettes or heavy drinking. Sure, you don’t experience the delirium like alcoholics, but it feels bad to stop gambling, to say the least.
One of the major red flags about you having a gambling problem is that you don’t want to talk about it with your family. If you don’t think you have a problem, then why not talk openly about your experiences?
This is what many addicts go through. They deny they have a problem, yet they won’t tell their wife how much they’ve spent on gambling because they know she’ll understand they have a problem. If that’s your experience, you may need to reevaluate what you’re doing and seek help.
Getting in debt
The biggest reason why people learn their loved one has a problem with gambling is discovering debt. Most gamblers only gamble with cold hard cash they earned. The problem gamblers, though, can’t stop there.
Often, they use any bit of money they can to keep the gambling going. The credit cards, the loan sharks, the house you jointly own with your spouse. Nothing is taboo when it comes to getting some money to gamble. Addicts don’t understand that they may get in debt, they think they will win big time and get everything back.
Too often, this never happens.
Four phases of gambling addiction
You don’t get addicted on the spot. It’s a long process that starts on a high note and quickly spirals out of control. Here are the four main steps any problem gambler goes through.
The winning phase
The first stage of addiction is actually very positive. Otherwise, why would a person get addicted in the first place?
During this stage, you get loads of fun and sit on the win streaks all the time. As you get progressively immersed in gambling, you start to understand that this fun activity is more interesting than anything else in your life. This is the first red flag.
The losing phase
In the winning phase, you start racking up the stakes thinking you’re always going to be winning. You feel invincible. You know you’re lucky and will keep winning no matter what.
But all the good things come to an end sooner or later. You start losing. Since you’re already betting more than you can afford, things spiral down after just a few nights of gambling. You find yourself with no money or worse, in debt.
This is when things turn south for you.
The desperation phase
If you didn’t stop after losing and didn’t learn the lesson, you progress to the desperation stage. This is when a compulsive gambler knows they have a problem. They try to stop, but can’t help but keep on gambling.
Each time they enter a casino, they think this is the time they’re going to win it all back. They’re going to hit a jackpot and solve all their troubles. More often than not, they fail to stop in time and end up losing everything they’ve won.
In the severe cases of addiction, gamblers turn to any means just to get some money for gambling. They go into debt or start stealing.
The hopeless stage
This is the last stage of gambling addiction, the one where a gambler understands they have a problem but don’t even try to solve it. They’ve tried so many times already and failed. The compulsive gambler starts developing severe depression and having suicidal thoughts. Many do try to end their lives with varying levels of success.
How to gamble safely?
That rabbit hole is too dangerous to go in. If you don’t gamble safely and you’re in the risk zone, you can get your life ruined before you know it. Here’s how you can make sure that doesn’t happen.
- Treat gambling as a fun activity, not the means to make money
- Don’t bet a sum you can’t afford
- Stop after you’ve lost enough money or after a big win
- Never gamble on the money you don’t have
- Don’t gamble when drunk or under the influence
- Don’t use gambling to run away from your problems
Follow these rules, and you should be able to enjoy gambling without frustration and falling into addiction.
How to prevent gambling addiction
Suppose you already see some major red flags in your behavior. What can you do to help curb the addiction that is already starting out? Here’s what you can do.
- Get a GamStop account to self-exclude in multiple casinos
- Self-exclude for a period of time in your go-to casino
- Limit how much money you can deposit
- Limit how much money you can lose
- Unsub from the newsletter that triggers compulsive gambling
- Ask the casino support to suspend your account for a period of time
- Seek support from your close ones
The last tip is arguably the most potent one. Most problem gamblers suffer from depression or loneliness and shy away from discussing these issues. They cope with anxiety with gambling instead.
Break out of this vicious circle and talk to your friends and family. If you get their support, it will be much easier to get back on track.
What casinos are doing to help prevent problem gambling
Many people believe that gambling companies and online casinos in particular are profiteering from the people who can’t control their actions. It might have been like that in the past, but today, casinos are actually doing a lot to help people curb addiction.
All casinos that get licensed in the UK or any other jurisdiction offer the option to self-exclude for any period of time or to get your account permanently removed. Casinos give control to the players. Anybody can set the maximum limits on their deposits and losses to help control their behavior when they get into the gambling mood.
Some companies in countries where online casinos are fully legal go even further and contribute 1% of their net profits towards programs that fight addiction, especially among young people. In the UK, the leaders of the betting market came together and agreed to make their advertising efforts far less effective for the sole reason of protecting the children from gambling.
Protecting children from gambling addiction
As we’ve outlined when describing the contributing factors, people under 18 have a tendency to get addicted to gambling much faster than adults do. Their brains didn’t develop the mechanisms for judging risks and rewards fully yet, and not having a stable source of income doesn’t help either.
People who get addicted at a young age also are at a higher risk of keeping that addiction well into their adulthood. This is why underage gambling prevention has always been the main focus of all prevention efforts.
No underaged person is going to enter a land-based casino in Sydney. The same goes for Australian online casinos. This is why you need to get through the ID verification procedure every time you register at a new casino.
I’m addicted, where do I get help?
If you checked with all the symptoms and think you may have a gambling addiction, do not worry. First, you need to recognize it’s a disease you can treat. The first step towards treating it is understanding you have a problem. If you do, you’re already half-way there.
Here is a list of organizations you can turn to for additional help.
These organizations are available all around the globe. If you need an Australian program for problem gamblers, contact these organizations:
Already in debt? Don’t let negative thoughts keep you down. These organizations may help you get out of debt for good.
The most important thing to do when you’re trying to stop compulsive gambling is to seek help from your friends and family. Get enough happiness from the rest of the world, and slots won’t be such a treat for you.