Like all addictions, gambling can be destructive in many ways, especially once it fully reaches that stage. Occasional and responsible gambling does not necessarily affect the player or the people around them, but anything in excess usually does.
Having a gambling problem is potentially overwhelming and all-consuming. It may create a devastating impact on the gambler and those closest to them.
We’ve created an overview of what having a gambling problem means, what the symptoms of it are and how it affects relationships. Finally, we’ve given our suggestions on how you can counter these destructive patterns and take control of your life once more.
Firstly, let’s clarify that having a “gambling problem” is just a more discreet way of saying that the person has an addiction.
When the occasional spin of the reels takes a turn for the worse, it tends to affect multiple areas of a person’s life. The symptoms may show up in the way a person handles their finances and in their mental health. It may also severely affect the player’s relationships.
The financial aspect tends to go awry first. If a person begins to get addicted to the rush of winning, they might eventually find themselves in a financial crisis. This is because the person with a gambling problem doesn’t usually quit once they win; they play on and potentially lose it all, and then some. When this happens, players may hide the fact that they’ve lost so much money from loved ones. They may even obscure from their inner circle that they’ve accumulated some debt, as well.
If this comes to a head, players might resort to taking out loans to cover their losses, and it’s usually at this point that their inner circles will notice something’s wrong. This can potentially culminate in the player stealing from friends, family, or even their workplace. Unpaid bills or even bill collectors arriving at the player’s door is usually what brings the addiction out into the light.
It’s like a perpetual hamster wheel, because the gambler believes that the only way to pay back the ever-accumulating debt is to keep on gambling.
Apart from such obvious, outwardly symptoms, they can be more intangible yet even harsher. When gambling begins to affect the person’s mental stability and relationships, then they have an even greater problem. Below is a list of the most common symptoms of gambling addiction.
Each individual is a universe onto themselves, and so, the symptoms may vary. We’ve compiled a list of some common symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.
Frequent arguments with your inner circle, especially regarding money;
Being excessively occupied with thoughts of gambling;
Gambling time encroaches on time spent with people;
Lying to your inner circle about losing money gambling.
Extreme emotional highs and lows;
Frequent mood swings;
Solely finding enjoyment in anything but gambling;
Gambling as a means to escape life’s problems;
Resorting to stealing money from the inner circle, business or employer to enable your gambling;
Severe depression or anxiety symptoms;
Persistent thoughts of suicide.
There are many self-assessment tests online that may help you determine if your gambling habit has escalated. Needless to say, if you’re reading this and you feel some of these symptoms resonate with you, you’ll want to take heed.
Gambling isn’t a physical addiction that shows obvious outward symptoms if excessively used, like other drugs might. This makes it so that this downward spiral and vicious cycle may go unchecked for years.
While the gambler might, at first, be oblivious to the effect gambling has on his or her life, the effects on their bankroll might be their first clue. They will also soon become aware that they feel like they’re losing control of their thoughts and inner peace.
Realizing that it’s affecting their relationships is usually the last aspect to dawn on a problem gambler.
However, these effects are usually immediately obvious to the inner circle. Before they get any insight into financial problems and true feelings of the gambler, they notice how the person changes in relation to them. The inner circle may feel the gambler doesn’t love them anymore, upon sensing the emotional tension and distance.
Friends will notice you’ve started lying about why you’re busy, or that you never seem to return the money you borrowed from them.
Family members might notice you’ve missed too many gatherings, or that you’re perpetually irritated and acting out of sorts.
Finally, your romantic partner might be most impacted of all, dealing with that negativity on a daily basis. Even if they don’t know the true cause of it, mounting debt will eventually give them a clue. If the partnership involves having children together, it can be especially damaging to the little ones. The family unit will surely experience stress, and the partnership, as well as the parent-child relationship, may suffer serious consequences.
It eventually turns into a vicious cycle, where your inner circle starts to believe that maybe they are the reason the gambler is pulling away. This tends to happen at first, before they realize the person has an addiction. They may then stop to call the person as much, to give them space. This leads to the person feeling even more isolated, and turn to gambling as solace even more fervently. The escape into gambling alleviates the person’s mental stress for a while, but financial loss or emotional triggers just send them back again. In the long run, this can cause relationship damage that is hard to repair.
Lastly, a person might find gambling to be the only way to procure the funds to redeem the accumulated debt. But, if this doesn’t happen, the person’s feeling of enormous guilt accumulates with the debt. It may ultimately be followed by depression and suicide.
The impact of problem gambling usually takes the greatest toll on the family unit itself. All the members may be affected to some degree — spouses, children, siblings, parents, and grandparents included.
There is even evidence on gambling problems being hereditary, as well as family violence being linked to this addiction.
The family environments become burdened with anger, frequent conflicts, and worsening communication. The gambler eventually becomes emotionally distant, and the entire family ends up socializing much less than before. They may neglect their role as a parent, and even resort to violence when confronted with their actions. Their spouses might threaten or go through with a divorce.
Children especially may have issues growing up due to financial security, emotional deprivation, and neglect. The reduced family stability can lead to all sorts of mental and emotional issues when they grow up.
These effects have distinguishable phases.
The phases most experts agree on are the denial, stress, and exhaustion phase.
The Denial Phase entails the gambler worrying on occasion, but keeping those concerns to oneself. They believe their gambling is a temporary thing, and they make excuses for their growing gambling habit. They don’t worry about the “random” unpaid bills, and they easily reassure themselves that they’re fine.
But nothing is fine, and this behaviour leads to the Stress Phase. At this point, it will have become apparent to the family that something is wrong. The gambler finds him or herself spending less time at home, and arguing when they’re there. They might feel resentment towards family members questioning their actions or demanding their attention. They start to isolate themselves, leading to their spouse and children feeling rejected and neglected. At this point, they may try to control their gambling habit, but in no effective manner.
Finally, they hit the Exhaustion Phase. By this point, the gambler’s mind is confused, and their thinking processes are impaired. They may even have physical symptoms of this anxiety, and either be enraged or increasingly distant from reality. Panic attacks, a feeling of hopelessness, and a mental breakdown are possible. In some cases, they turn to numbing substance abuse and even suicide attempts.
Many studies across the globe have found that problem gambling statistically gives rise to increased family violence. The term “violence” refers not only to physical violence, but psychological and emotional violence as well. It was found that around ⅓ of problem gamblers have either caused or experienced family-related violence. Over ½ of the total physical violence reported was directed at children.
The relationship between the two isn’t clear, and it seems circular. Perhaps family violence leads one to take refuge in gambling. Or perhaps, gambling leads to family violence.
Whether the chicken or the egg came first is a moot point; what we do know is that several factors are always involved, and the connection is not so simple.
Being related to a problem gambler can affect their partner and children’s emotional and physical health. It may even lead to behavioural problems as they inadvertently go through this hell with their family member.
The emotional stress, the reduced relationship quality, and trust in the gambler always tax the family.
The effects on emotional health include anger, depression, anxiety, confusion, guilt, resentment, and hopelessness. Romantic partners mostly feel anger and resentment, while children feel guilty, hopeless, and confused.
Physical health problems with romantic partners include headaches, high blood pressure, and stomach issues. The children may experience a flare up of asthma, allergies, as well as chronic headaches.
Behavioural health problems for spouses may include excessive eating or drinking, resorting to smoking and impulse purchases to calm down. Children may overeat, lower their grades at school, turn to alcohol and smoking, or even run away from home.
Several independent studies in Australia have looked into this matter. These were longitudinal studies and their results point to there being a link.
In fact, children of gambling-addicted parents and/or siblings have a high risk of gambling addiction. The studies point to them being 2–10 times more likely to develop a gambling problem, compared to those with no gambling history in the family. Specifically, people whose fathers and mothers gambled are the most at risk.
Other intergenerational factors have been found to contribute to the child eventually developing gambling problems. Likewise, protective factors have also been identified.
If people start gambling when they’re young, if they or their parents have drug problems, they are more likely to develop a problem. Next, if people believe that gambling will have a positive mental and financial outcome, or see it as a healthy way to socialize, it’s not good.
However, it has been found that being female automatically reduces your chances of being a problem gambler, despite coming from such a family. Also, being of higher social class and having a strong social network are seen as protective factors. So is having a clear awareness of the potential negative consequences.
Gambling seems to be an intrinsic part of human nature. When we’re children, it’s like we believe we can materialize anything if we wish for it, even that pony for Christmas. When we’re adults, we still seem to believe in the mysterious concept of luck, and we want to play for a better life.
Gambling addiction tends to start quietly, naively, as occasional fun or a benign vent from harsh reality.
Yet, in the blink of an eye, you find your credit cards are maxed out, your debt is out of hand, and your family relationships are in ruins.
Your life is a hodgepodge of chronic stress, the elation of winning, and the desperation of losing. You find that you feel ashamed all the time.
The impacts of gambling are far reaching, and it’s incredibly important to seek help from a professional.
Take the step.
In the words of a great man — “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”