Gambling, shopping/debting, compulsive exercise, cleaning, workaholism, internet


Dr. Debra Moore
When is Gambling Fun, When is it Out of Control?

When is Gambling Fun, and When is it Out of Control?

A trip to Reno or Tahoe is a pleasant excursion for many of us here in Northern California. Spending some time gambling can be part of the fun.

Many of us are prepared to part with some of our money in exchange for the entertainment of trying our luck. If we win, we are thrilled, and if we lose, we take it in stride. We suffer no real consequences because we bet only what we could afford to lose.

But for some people, gambling is a problem. Whether we call it an addiction or an impulse-control disorder, it is a serious condition with dangerous consequences.

For most men, problematic gambling often begins in adolescence. For women, it often begins later in life. About one-third of individuals with problematic gambling are women, and they are more likely than men to gamble as an escape from depression. They are often ashamed to seek help or to talk about this part of their problems when they do.

Once in awhile someone is hooked on gambling from his or her very first wager, but for most people, the problem sneaks up on them. They may gamble for many years without it disrupting their life. But over time, of after an especially stressful period, the nature of their gambling changes.

They start to gamble more frequently. They think about their next trip to the casino between visits. It becomes the most appealing hobby they have. They plan other activities around it. They begin to neglect other interests.

When they do gamble, they place larger bets. They take more risk. They start to dwell on how they will get more money to wager. They begin to automatically turn to gambling as the recreation which relieves their stress.

They gamble more when depressed or worried.

Research tells us that problem gamblers are more likely than the general population to have had parents who were also out of control gamblers. They are also more likely to have had one or both parents dependent on alcohol.

When gambling becomes a way of escaping problems or changing a bad mood, it may be starting down a dangerous path. When efforts to cut back or stop have failed, and have just resulted in frustration or restlessness, this is a warning flag.

Chasing your losses, lying to loved ones, or jeopardizing careers or relationships are all signs that a problem exists.

Sometimes problematic gambling can signal other problems. Loss of judgment, recklessness, and disregard for money can also occur when a person is having a manic episode. But in this case, there will be other clear signs that the person is experiencing a change in mood which is seriously interfering in several areas of impulse control, not just gambling.

Many other problems can coexist with addictive gambling. Increased rates of mood disorders and stress related medical conditions are common. Substance abuse is more likely. And tragically, 20 percent of people in treatment for gambling problems are reported to have attempted suicide.

Treatment can be individual or as part of a group or specific program. Whichever option is used, it is important to treat any coexisting problems as well. Then it is combination of finding out what kind of thoughts and feelings are fueling the addictive behavior and learning new and better tools for handling the stresses and challenges of life.