Everyone has different ways of coping with stress. While some may turn to exercise or watching a TV show, others turn to gambling as a way to minimize their stress. This can lead to a vicious cycle that can cause a person to become utterly consumed by gambling.
What Causes Stress?
What is stress? According to the National Library of Medicine, “Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.”
Everyone experiences stress from time to time, from a variety of factors. Stress can arise from responsibilities at work, financial concerns, keeping up with the latest news, struggles in relationships, and more.
So, what happens in the body when we get stressed? A typical stress response is called: fight-or-flight response. We obtain this response when we feel threatened. Our brain reacts by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, and as a result, our pulse rises, muscles tense and breathing increases. The stress hormone cortisol is good in the short term, but high levels over extended periods can damage the body, especially the heart.
For most people, feeling stressed is something negative. Trying to find time in our busy schedules to do everything that needs to be done, and rushing through life believing that stress is harmful, it’s no wonder we try to avoid stress at any cost.
The Connection Between Stress and Gambling
Gambling is one way people use to escape stress, and can serve as a distraction from and a means to cope with life stressors. In fact, almost 50% of individuals with gambling disorder undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy identified negative emotional states, such as stress, as a strong trigger to gamble.
One member of QuitGamble.com put it, “I gamble when I'm emotional, like if I've had a bad day or stressful day. It makes me forget for a while." If gambling can "help" people destress, it’s easy to understand that gambling can be addictive. The more stressed people are, the stronger the effect gambling will have on them.
The problem is that there is a cyclical nature to gambling and stress. The more stressed a person is, the more they will want to gamble. But the more a person gambles, the more stressed they will be. Gambling can bring up a whole slew of new stressors, such as financial stressors.
Problem gamblers believe that financial stress can be solved by gambling, if they could only win enough money. This causes gamblers to chase losses, which only leads them deeper into gambling debt and fuels their addiction even more.
Stress may also make individuals with gambling disorder more likely to relapse, since the stress of attempting to stop gambling may combine with other life stressors, causing them to turn to gambling to ease their stress.
How to Effectively Reduce Stress
Every time the gambler feels stressed, they will feel an urge to gamble, since this is what they have done to relieve their stress in the past. So, what can you do instead?
- Find ways to decrease the stress in your life. We're living in stressful times. If you want to decrease the amount of stress in your life, you can start by acknowledging the times you feel stress. Make a list of everything throughout the day that causes you to feel stressed.
- Look for alternative ways to relax. Unwinding after a stressful day by gambling is not an effective solution to managing your stress - it is only a temporary distraction that will ultimately make your problem worse.
Look for other things that can help you relax, such as going for a walk, having a quiet evening at home, or find something you enjoy doing that doesn’t require much effort such as reading or painting.
- Seek professional help. Most compulsive gamblers don’t know why they gamble, and therefore never get to the root of their addiction. All they know is that gambling helps them relax, and eases the stress, at least temporarily.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but is actually a sign of self-awareness and bravery. If you have a gambling problem, ask yourself why you gamble and what gambling is doing for you. If the answer has something to do with stress, start working on what causes you stress. It'll help you on your way to becoming gambling free.
At Algamus Gambling Treatment Center, we work one-on-one with our clients to not only address their gambling problem, but also any underlying issues that are causing them to gamble, such as stress.
Gambling is not a moral failure, and you are not alone in your struggle with gambling. Over the past 30 years, Algamus has treated thousands of individuals from all types of backgrounds, and helped them understand their gambling addiction and why they gamble.
If you are ready to take the next step in your gambling recovery journey, or you want more information about our residential gambling treatment program, we encourage you to speak to our gambling counselors.