You are gambling whenever you take the chance of losing money or belongings, and when winning or losing is decided mostly by chance. There are many ways to engage in forms of gambling such as buying lottery tickets, playing cards for money (poker, bingo), playing VLTs (slots machines), betting on sports and more. Gambling can also take place via the Internet, through online sports betting, poker and other card games, and virtual casinos.
It is described as a persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. It is also called gambling addiction or compulsive gambling.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-5, in order to be diagnosed with a gambling disorder, an individual must exhibit 4 (or more) of the following within a 12-month period:
1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).
5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).
6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).
7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.
9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.
Individuals experiencing problems related to gambling can be of any gender. They belong to any age groups and come from all walks of life.
While there is no typical description for someone who engages in problem gambling, they are likely to exhibit one or more of the following traits:
• family history of addiction, abuse, or neglect
• recent loss, trauma, or stress
• poor coping and problem-solving skills
• early positive associations with gambling
• belief in “magical thinking” and illusions about the odds of winning
• continued involvement regardless of consequences
• short-lived enjoyable feelings, exhilaration
• symptoms such as sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and nausea
• relief from negative feelings
• tolerance: increasing amounts needed
• withdrawal symptoms during abstinence, like anxiety and insomnia
• loss of control
• detached states
You may have issues with gambling if:
• You spend money your family or you are counting on to gamble
• You break promises to spend time with loved ones, or harm them in other ways, so you can engage in your gambling behavior
• You are unhappy because you can’t stop your harmful behavior
• You cannot reach your goals
You should seek help if:
• You have tried, but continue to experience difficulty changing your ways
• You have been able to change your behavior, but still unhappy and something is missing
• You are wondering if you need help – now may be a good time to get it
How to Talk to an individual experiencing problems related to gambling.
Choose a time and place to talk
Bring up the subject when you have privacy and enough time to talk it through.
Tell the person how you feel
• You are my best friend and I’m worried about you. We love you and we miss you.
• I care about you, and I don’t want to see you getting in over your head.
Describe what you see
Don’t judge anyone. Just say what happened:
• Last month, you borrowed X$ from me and another X$ from my brother, and you still haven’t paid either of us back.
• You used to play cards once a month, and now you’re playing at least three times every week.
• After we had a fight last night, you went out and played the VLT machine.
• You said you spent the money on groceries, but you really spent it on bingo and scratch tickets.
Be a good listener
The person may admit having a problem. They may shrug it off, not want to talk about it with you, or become angry and defensive. They may be thankful for the opportunity to share feelings and concerns. Try to listen without judging.
Offer your support
If the person decides that a change is needed, offer help. You can ask them what they need to support a change. You can also suggest ways you can spend time together, without involving gambling. Offer to help work out a plan for cutting back or quitting. Be encouraging and understanding. It may be helpful to have counseling sessions together.