The impact of problem gambling often spreads further than the loss of money or the mounting debt. A feeling of isolation is very common – with shame and guilt making it difficult to talk about the issue. There may be a tendency to stay away from work, college or school in order to gamble. In addition, a preoccupation with gambling can lead to a lack of interest in maintaining relationships and a lack of motivation to engage in social activities.
As continuous funds are required to gamble, there may be an increasing reluctance to spend money on items of clothing or necessary household goods. There may also be an unwillingness to pay utility bills, instead choosing to spend the money on gambling. Problem gambling can be progressive in nature and problem gamblers can end up engaging in criminal activity to fund their gambling. This can lead to lifelong consequences with criminal convictions.
Is gambling affecting your mental health?
- Are you experiencing some or all of the following?
- Having extreme emotions or mood swings?
- Feeling that gambling is the only thing you enjoy, to the exclusion of other things?
- Finding it difficult to sleep?
- Feeling depressed or anxious?
- Having suicidal thoughts?
- Using gambling as a way to deal with other problems or emotions in your life?
As well as the more obvious effects that a gambling problem can have on a your financial situation, there can also be a serious impact on your mental health. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, problem gamblers are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders, to become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, to develop a substance misuse problem and to suffer from depression.
Although a lot of people gamble to escape feelings of depression or other mental health problems, gambling can actually make these conditions worse. One reason that problem gambling can affect mental health is the way people experience ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ when gambling. If you gamble a lot yourself, you may have found the experience of anticipating ‘the big win’ to be very mentally involving and extremely exciting, perhaps better than feelings created by any other activity. You may also have found the devastation of losing to be a massive low, leading to feelings of despair.
This is especially the case in very high-risk forms of gambling, where very large amounts of money are being staked. This increases the potential for the massive ‘high’, but also makes the ‘low’ feel worse when it comes. Feelings of loss and despair following a gambling spree can lead to greater desires to gamble straight away in order to try and get back on a ‘high’. However, by continuing to gamble, any negative feelings only get worse.
Is gambling affecting your relationships?
Having a gambling problem can be very all-consuming, and as well as the effect on the gamblers themselves, it can have a devastating impact on their relationships with other people, their friends and family. This can take various forms, especially the following:
- Arguing more with your partner or family, especially about money, budgeting and debt
- Being preoccupied with gambling and finding it difficult to focus on other things
- Spending less time with people and more time gambling
- Lying to friends and family about losses
- Stealing money from friends and family to gamble with
Instead of spending time with partners and their family, or fulfilling commitments, gamblers may choose to spend their leisure time gambling. This can lead a partner or family member to worry that the gambler does not care about them anymore, or that they are somehow less important. This can lead to emotional distance or tension in the relationship. It is often the case however, that the gambler is so tied up with the gambling behaviour that they are unable to think about anyone else.
There can also be increased arguments over the family budget and finances when there is a gambling problem in the family. Often the gambler is convinced that they will be able to sort the problems out themselves, when in reality they need help to stop gambling and resolve their debt problems in a more realistic way. Broken promises and deceit can mean that partners of gamblers can lose trust in their relationship, especially if the gambler has tried to stop gambling several times but has ended up returning to the behaviour. It’s easy to see how all of these factors can cause stress to a relationship and lead a partner or family member to question the value of it. Sometimes there is also a lot of guilt involved as a partner may wonder if the gambling problem is their fault, or if they have somehow contributed to the problem. Problem gambling in a family can also have an effect on children – the impact of stress within the family unit and potential loss of relationship with a parent can have lasting consequences.
Are you in debt due to gambling?
Are you spending more than you want on gambling or struggling to find the money for bills? Gambling problems and financial issues really go hand-in-hand. A financial crisis is often what brings a person to address their gambling. It’s also not uncommon for partners, friends or family members of problem gamblers to tell us that they did not realise their loved one was a problem gambler until there were serious financial consequences such as a court summons for non-pa yment of debt or repossession action on their home.
Financial problems can really mount up. Bills don’t get paid, debts accumulate. If you have credit cards, you might max them out to pay your bills, or worse, to keep gambling. At this point, payday loans may look like a solution – but their high interest rates and charges are likely to make the situation worse. Business-owners can also find themselves in debt due to using business money to finance their gambling. A common dilemma for someone with a gambling problem is how to get out of debt. For many, the chance to continue gambling in order to win it back and make everything alright again can feel overwhelmingly tempting. It might also feel as though there is no chance of repaying debts accrued through gambling unless you carry on gambling, so you feel completely trapped.
However, think of it another way. If you are struggling to control your urge to gamble, a win will probably not clear your debts, as you won’t be able to stop gambling to pay them off. The temptation to repeat the thrill of the win would be high. A phrase we often hear is ‘I cannot win because I cannot stop’. In the end, losing more money and making the situation worse is inevitable. Also, using more gambling as a way of solving a debt caused by gambling in the first place is unlikely ever to be effective. It may feel like clearing your debts gradually will take longer, but in reality, continuing to gamble will only make things worse in the long run and may leave you with a far greater amount of debt.
The idea of owning up to your debt problems can be frightening, and you’d rather people didn’t know. Taking control of your debt problems and looking for another way of solving the issue can however be very empowering. You’ll be able to relax and feel that those things are being taken care of, leaving you to address other issues that your gambling has created, and think about stopping gambling altogether. The effects of problem gambling on your life can be very serious from a financial point of view. However, the impacts of problem gambling should not be viewed in purely financial terms. Once gambling becomes a problem the negative impacts on your life can cost you more than money.
The isolation of the problem gambler
Many gamblers report that they get a sense of ‘community’ from the environment they gamble in – for example the betting shop, or people they talk to online. Problem gamblers can lose interest in maintaining real personal relationships as their preoccupation with gambling intensifies and they can suffer from social isolation. Ordinary life sometimes doesn’t hold the same appeal as the gambling ‘high’. Arguments, strained relationships, failure to meet responsibilities, alienation, separation, divorce, physical or mental abuse can all be a feature of the life of a problem gambler.
Often a problem gambler can isolate themselves due to feeling guilt or shame, or because they have borrowed or stolen money from people in their life to fund their gambling. It can feel as though there is no way back into the real world. There can also be a declining interest in hobbies as gambling can dominate thinking. Problem gamblers often say that they are still thinking about gambling, even when they are not actually gambling. Some have even referred to dreaming about gambling in their sleep, such is their pre-occupation with the next bet. Problem gamblers also report issues maintaining their working life or career, due to mental preoccupation with the gambling world.