Gambling creates a high, a rush of adrenaline and can be exciting. Like other addictive behaviours it blocks out all other considerations and concerns. It’s not winning that the gambler becomes addicted to – it’s taking the risk. That’s why the gambler goes back and loses all their winnings – they are not doing it for the money, they are doing it for the feeling.
It’s estimated there are currently around 370,000 problem gamblers in the UK. A lot of problem gamblers do not declare themselves or seek help, and gambling is often not recognised as an addictive illness. However, the behaviour of problem gamblers causes extreme disruption both in their own lives and in the lives of their families. Debts mount up, homes are lost, families split up and gamblers can acquire criminal convictions.
When your gambling disrupts either your work, family life, social life, psychological or physical well-being, then it’s called ‘problem gambling’. When problem gambling becomes pathological it qualifies as a progressive addiction. At this point the gambler needs to bet more and more often and larger and larger amounts, and becomes restless and irritable when they try to stop or when they can’t gamble. They become preoccupied with gambling, they chase losses (trying to recover losses by gambling more and more) and continue gambling despite increasing negative consequences of their behavior.
Addictive gambling involves denial about the problem, an inability to stop or control the gambling, mood swings and depression. Like any other addictive disease, pathological gambling has phases. These include chasing the first win (always trying ti have again that first wonderful high when winning), experiencing blackouts (periods of gambling of which the gambler has no memory at all) and using gambling to escape emotional pain. Addicted gamblers experience low self-esteem, they use rituals, and are driven to seek immediate gratification. There’s also a significantly high suicide rate amongst compulsive gamblers.