Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear about someone dying of a substance use disorder. Accidental overdoses, DUI’s, or crime as a result of substance abuse are dominating news stories and raising the attention of all. There is certainly no doubt we have an epidemic going on here, but let’s take a close look at another addictive behavior that is reaping havoc on our society behind the scenes.
Unlike a heroin overdose, where the immediate negative consequences of such unhealthy behaviors can be quite severe and instantaneous, gambling addiction is progressive and the consequences can become just as destructive over the long haul and at times can even lead to suicide. With more and more access to online gambling and devices to participate in such behaviors, quite literally at our fingertips, the rise and severity of the consequences of such behavior is destroying the lives of many. The old saying of “What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” no longer applies. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your bed and torn PJ’s to participate. Likewise, the severity of the consequences is no longer equally proportional to the length of your bachelor/ bachelorette party.
Some might argue whether obsessive gambling is truly an addictive disorder that requires equitable attention and the same level of medical intervention as a substance abuse disorder. Statements like, “Its not that serious it’s just a distraction or it’s something I like to do once in a while,” are used as often by a compulsive gambler as a substance abuser. Is gambling addiction really that serious? Let's examine the definition of addiction and take a more detailed look into the consequences when the behavior reaches a level beyond control.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as follows:
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, and craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder, is an impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when it’s hurting themselves or their loved ones.
Compulsive gamblers keep gambling no matter the consequences, even when they know the odds are against them or they can’t afford to lose. Often they can get so caught up in the need to get their FIX, they completely abandon responsibilities to self and others. One man described it this way:
“When I am in it, nothing else matters! I care little for basic human needs like food, shelter and even sex. I am unable to hold a job, have adult relationships or any ability to muster any hope of living out my dreams. I used to not even have to leave my bedroom to get the high or fix I needed. However, now I need more and more, to achieve the same feeling I once had. I am at bottom! I steal, I lie, and I cheat! I do this to get the money I need to make a bet! I have lost it all! I have lost myself!”
People with gambling addiction often have other behavior or mood disorders. Many abuse substances, have ADD/ADHD, or mood disorders. The shame and guilt associated with the uncontrollable need to participate in the behavior can lead to clinical anxiety level which can lead to depression, and even suicide.
The Internet has made gambling far more accessible and harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online casinos and bookmakers are open all day, every day, for anyone with a smartphone.
If you or a loved one is struggling with any of what has been described above, please know there is HOPE and there is HELP. You are not alone and help is available to you. Click here to begin the healing.