Problem gambling is when harm occurs because of gambling. This harm may take many forms and can extend to other people in the gambler’s life.
Gambling - How does it start?
Gambling doesn’t start as a problem.
For most people it starts out as a good thing, for example as:
- Time away from the pressures of work and family
- Opportunity to get away from thoughts and feelings which may be depressing
- A bit of excitement
- A dream of winning a fortune
- An opportunity to get out and socialise
- Feeling that a gambling venue is a safe place to go, no matter what the time.
Gambling can change and grow without people noticing how it has become more important.
Read Ron’s story.
A significant change or stress is commonly the trigger for gambling to escalate out of control. A big win can also have the same effect. Even without specific stress, gambling can increase. People often find that they have to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve satisfaction. Also gambling, through its increasing demands on time, energy and money, creates other stresses in people’s relationships, work and finances.
Why do people gamble?
Individuals who have gambling problems most often ask this question. They are unable to understand how, when they know gambling is causing them problems, they just don’t or can’t stop. It just doesn’t make sense!
Rather than asking “why” individuals gamble, perhaps it is better to understand “how” gambling fits into people’s lives. What part does it play? What need does it satisfy?
Most people who have problems with gambling fall into two broad groups:
- Those that say they gamble because it gives them some excitement and is challenging, and
- Those who while gambling, experience time when they don’t think or feel. It is like a numbing experience, where their worries and cares disappear and their problems are forgotten.
A process of gambling
Let’s present a different way of thinking about gambling. When we are in physical pain, we do something to alleviate the pain, for example take a Panadol®.
Life stress can also cause pain, emotional pain and consequently other responses such as anxiety, boredom and depression. We may find other things to do to alleviate emotional pain, for example talking to friends, drinking, taking drugs or gambling.
Just like medication, gambling can offer some emotional pain relief. To medicate their pain, people may turn to gambling. Gambling can also introduce other factors that begin a cycle for the gambler that is difficult to get out of.
The cost of gambling
When thinking about gambling it is important to recognise that uncontrolled gambling causes more than just financial harm. It may also negatively affect other aspects of a gambler’s life, for example:
- Losing the respect of family, friends and work colleagues
- Losing self respect
- Relationships with others, for example, losing contact with friends
- Health, for example not eating or sleeping properly, existing health problems becoming worse
- Work performance, for example absence from work, inability to concentrate
- The likelihood of committing illegal activities, for example stealing
- Social activities, for example losing interest and ability to go out
- Ability to engage in educational activities.
When gambling becomes a problem
There is no certain answer to when gambling becomes a problem. It is up to the individual to decide whether there is a problem or not. The following things might happen if someone has a problem with gambling:
- Shopping money is used for gambling
- There is no spare money to spend on yourself
- Money for bills is spent on gambling
- The truth about their gambling behaviour is hidden or lied about
- Other people are relied on for financial assistance
- Loss of interest in family and friends
- Work is missed to spend time gambling
- Increased fights at home to have an excuse to go out and gamble
- Temptation to take someone else’s money to gamble with
- Inability to stop gambling
- Finding excuses for gambling losses
- There are more gambling debts on credit cards than purchases
- Eating and sleeping are neglected in favour of gambling.
One of the things we know about problem gambling is that some of the things people believe about gambling may push them to gamble more.
Some people who develop problems with gambling believe:
- If they continue gambling, they are bound to win soon
- If they continue gambling, they will win back what they have lost
- That gambling is a solution to financial problems
- That gambling is the only immediate escape from stress
- That the only way to stop urges to gamble is to gamble.
None of these beliefs are true.