Recently I was driving in my car listening to sports radio when I heard an ad for one of the sports betting apps. At the end of the advertisement the announcer said “Problem with Gambling? Call 1-800-Gambler.” This was auspicious timing as I recently just finished high specialized training on gambling addiction. With gambling increasing in New Jersey we at the New Jersey Family and Addiction Institute in Morris County thought it was time to write a piece on gambling addiction.
What is gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction (also called problem gambling) is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Essential features of gambling addiction include:
- Preoccupation with gambling
- A need to bet more money more frequently
- Restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop
- Loss chasing
- Loss of control evidenced by continuing to gamble in spite of serious and negative consequences
Isn’t gambling addiction just a financial problem? How can gambling be a problem if I can meet my expenses?
These are two really common questions. Gambling addiction is an emotional problem that has financial consequences. An alcoholic who doesn’t drink is still an alcoholic. Likewise a gambler addict who does not have debt is still a gambler addict.
Why don’t people just stop gambling if they have problem with it?
For those who have a problem with gambling the likelihood of them being able to stop on their own without help is very low. Problem gambling is a psychological condition in which the gambler will most likely continue to gamble until the hit a bottom or an intervention occurs. Additionally describing problem gamblers as having a “lack of willpower” could alienate the problem gambler and prevent them from seeking help.
How much money do you have to lose before gambling becomes a problem?
There is not rule about “losing more than x makes you a problem gambler.” The amount of money lost does not necessarily matter. The most important factors in determining whether an individual struggles with problem gambling is the impact that it is having on their lives. Individuals who struggle with problem gambling will exhibit some of the essential features discussed above.
How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S. and why haven’t I heard about it more often?
An estimated 2 million U.S. adults meet the criteria for gambling addiction and another 4-6 million meet some of the criteria and would be considered at risk for developing gambling addiction. This is rarely discussed because many people who struggle with gambling hide the effects for their loved ones. Usually the extent of their problems are only discovered when a life event occurs such as foreclosure on their house, legal issues, retirement, or their death.
What are some statistics on gambling addiction?
- Roughly 50% of problem gamblers commit crimes to either get money to gamble with or pay off their debt
- Over 80% of problem gamblers were at risk for alcohol or drug abuse
- Individuals with problem gambling have the highest rates of suicide ideation and attempts among individuals with addictive disorders
- Approximately 50% of problem gamblers will contemplate suicide
- Up to 20% of problem gamblers will attempt suicide
Now that you have thoroughly scared me what do I do if I or a loved one needs help?
Here at the New Jersey Family and Addiction Institute we need seek to intentionally scare you. We actually didn’t realize the extent of the problem until we received our specialized training. If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling please do no wait to contact us. Gambling addiction can be effectively treated but progress is not likely to occur without treatment.