Gambling Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Problem Gambling

Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as a “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers typically deny or minimize the problem and also go to great lengths to hide their gambling problem. For example, a problem gambler may withdraw from their loved ones and lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing.

The thing about gambling, and particularly online gmabling, is that it can mimic substance abuse in the rush to the brain. I’ve never come across a gambler who yet didn’t have other addictions

About 75% of those who gamble online are problem gamblers, while about 20% of those who visit casinos also have a problem. However the big difference with online online gambling is availability and frequency.

Myths & Facts about Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling

MYTH: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler.
FACT: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently.

MYTH: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.
FACT: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can lead to relationship breakdown and loss of important friendships.

MYTH: Partners of problem gamblers often drive problem gamblers to gamble.
FACT: Problem gamblers often rationalize their behaviour. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.

MYTH: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it.
FACT: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling gambling problems to continue.

Warning Signs on Gambling

Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slot machines in a casino or online, problem gambling can interfere with work and lead to financial catastrophe.

You may do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging the problem.

Gamblers seem to be migrating online. Paddy Power says that 77 per cent of its profits comes from the online side of the industry. (It doesn’t break down the Irish market specifically.)

Dr Colin O’Gara, a consultant psychiatrist at St John of God Hospital and a researcher at the school of medicine at University College Dublin, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients with smartphone- and other online-gambling problems.

“Gambling may be a hobby for people, but it’s inherently an addictive behaviour,” he says. “Just like alcohol or drugs. It’s not harmless.”

O’Gara conjures pictures of lads in pubs watching matches, all with their phones out, gambling. He tells of young men who lose vast sums of money on their phones while sitting in rooms with friends and family. By the time they come for treatment, he says, they have other psychiatric difficulties, most commonly depression, and are involved in “almost 24/7” gambling.

“There’s a complete loss of control and no rationale to the behaviour. A pathological gambler looks at things in a totally different way. They feel they’re going to win all the time. If they have had a series of losses they feel they’re definitely going to win. That’s what they call ‘gambler’s fallacy’.

“They’re betting on the lower tennis divisions in Florida or third-division South American football teams,” he says. Debts vary “from students owing several thousands to people involved in spread betting owing multi-millions.”

Although online gambling is easily to access and hard to control, it should, in theory, allow easier collation of information on risky behaviour.

But while online operators are using their huge data sets for marketing purposes, to identify customers suitable for promotions and gifts, they do not yet use the data to identify problem behaviour and intervene.

Most companies don’t cut people off purely because they’ve lost a lot of money. “Though a lot of them will block you if you’re winning too much money,” says O’ Gara.

The Paddy Power chain says it would be unfair to expect online-gambling companies to make diagnoses. “We’re not clinicians,” says its communications director, whose name is also Paddy Power.

“We can’t say to people, ‘You’re a problem gambler.’ ” The company is working with Mc Gill University, in Montreal, on a study analyzing the behaviour of at-risk players, but it and other operators prefer to promote “responsible gambling” and offer optional spending limits and self-exclusion services for customers worried about their gambling.

O’Gara notes that such opt-in measures require a level of self-awareness that many problem gamblers have lost.

A lot of them will block you if you’re winning too much money,” What’s the difference.
Note that The Paddy Power chain says it would be unfair to expect online-gambling companies to make diagnoses. “We’re not clinicians,”
Yet; they are without doubt good great Mathematician’s? When it comes to their own financial ruin they are very good clinicians.

The Connection between Gambling & Mind Altering Substances
The American Psychiatric Association (APA

Various surveys have determined that around two million people in the U.S. are addicted to gambling, and for as many as 20 million citizens the habit seriously interferes with work and social life.

The APA based its decision on numerous recent studies in psychology; neurosciences and genetics demonstrating that gambling and drug addiction are far more similar than previously realized.

Research in the past two decades has dramatically improved neuroscientists’ working model of how the brain changes as an addiction develops. In the middle of our cranium, a series of circuits known as the reward system links various scattered brain regions involved in memory, movement, pleasure and motivation.

When we engage in an activity that keeps us alive or helps us pass on our genes, neurons in the reward system squirt out a chemical messenger called dopamine, giving us a little wave of satisfaction and encouraging us to make a habit of enjoying hearty meals and romps in the sack. When stimulated by amphetamine, cocaine or other addictive drugs, the reward system disperses up to 10 times more dopamine than usual.

Continuous use of such drugs robs them of their power to induce euphoria. Addictive substances keep the brain so awash in dopamine that it eventually adapts by producing less of the molecule and becoming less responsive to its effects.

As a consequence, addicts build up a tolerance to a drug, needing larger and larger amounts to get high. In severe addiction, people also go through withdrawal—they feel physically ill, cannot sleep and shake uncontrollably—if their brain is deprived of a dopamine-stimulating substance for too long.

At the same time, neural pathways connecting the reward circuit to the prefrontal cortex weaken. Resting just above and behind the eyes, the prefrontal cortex helps people tame impulses.

In other words, the more an addict uses a drug, the harder it becomes to stop.
Research to date shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking.

Just as substance addicts require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures. Likewise, both drug addicts and problem gamblers endure symptoms of withdrawal when separated from the chemical or thrill they desire.

And a few studies suggest that some people are especially vulnerable to both drug addiction and compulsive gambling because their reward circuitry is inherently under-active—which may partially explain why they seek big thrills in the first place.
Even more compelling, neuroscientists have learned that drugs and gambling alter many of the same brain circuits in similar ways.

These insights come from studies of blood flow and electrical activity in people’s brains as they complete various tasks on computers that either mimic casino games or test their impulse control.

In some experiments, virtual cards selected from different decks earn or lose a player money; other tasks challenge someone to respond quickly to certain images that flash on a screen but not to react to others.

A new understanding of compulsive gambling has also helped scientists redefine addiction itself.

Whereas experts used to think of addiction as dependency on a chemical, they now define it as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions.

That experience could be the high of cocaine or heroin or the thrill of doubling one’s money at the casino. “The past idea was that you need to ingest a drug that changes neurochemistry in the brain to get addicted, but we now know that just about anything we do alters the brain,” says Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and addiction expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It makes sense that some highly rewarding behaviour, like gambling, can cause dramatic [physical] changes, too.”

Redefining compulsive gambling as an addiction is not mere semantics: therapists have already found that pathological gamblers respond much better to medication and therapy typically used for addictions rather than strategies for taming compulsions such as trichotillomania.

For reasons that remain unclear, certain antidepressants alleviate the symptoms of some impulse-control disorders; they have never worked as well for pathological gambling,

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that more than 80 percent of gambling addicts never seek treatment in the first place. And of those who do, up to 75 percent return to the gaming halls, making prevention all the more important.

Today you do not even need to leave your house to gamble—all you need is an Internet connection or a phone.
www.gamblersanonymous.ie