The term problem gambling describes gambling behaviour that has become destructive or damaging to the gambler or to those around them. Problem gambling can make each day a struggle.
There is now a craving or behaviour to chase losses which may even replace the craving for the initial sensations that drove someone to gamble more. This behaviour then can have harmful consequences as money is needed to feed the “addiction”.
Problem gamblers may feel the urge to continue gambling even when doing so will likely result in negative consequences. Money problems, work problems, mental health issues and relationships issues are common signs of problem gambling.
Problem gamblers may have the desire to stop gambling – but feel unable to do so.
Problem gambling is described as a behavioural addiction and it shares many of the same features of other addictions. Other common behavioural addictions include sex addiction, porn addiction, gaming addiction, work addiction and exercise addiction.
How does problem gambling start?
This video illustrates how the initial experience of a gambling win (or even, just the feeling of taking a risk by placing a bet) can generate a temporary euphoric feeling. This feeling may give you a break from other, more difficult feelings – it may provide a temporary escape from the reality of life as it is. This, in turn, can lead to a craving to repeat that feeling.
Over time it may be necessary to increase the risk taken in order to to chase that feeling. Increasing the risk means that gambling will be more likely to make life more of a struggle, giving the gambler more need for a break from those feelings. This is the classic cycle of addiction.
Why can’t I just stop gambling?
It is a common misconception that problem gamblers simply lack the willpower to stop. For problem gamblers, quitting gambling is not simply about trying harder to quit.
It can be extremely difficult to write off the money, time and emotional energy already spent on gambling, and it is also important to recognise that the activity of gambling is often being used as an escape from difficult feelings. Quitting will require facing those feelings – and it is therefore important to find good support in order to develop a strategy for quitting.
A good strategy for quitting gambling includes thinking carefully about how you manage your money, how you manage your time (you are likely to have much more free time if you stop gambling), about increasing your social interactions, about being honest with those around you and about what steps you can take to block access to gambling.
Speaking to someone about your situation can help you to get a better perspective on how to move forwards.