Whether you like to try your luck at bingo, play the lottery or place some money on the horses, gambling is something that appeals to many.
An enjoyable pastime with the chance of winning money back, gambling has an undeniable appeal which transcends class, age and gender.
But no matter how much you enjoy playing, it’s essential to know your boundaries – and to be able to spot when you need to stop.
For some, gambling can become an addiction, so; it’s essential to recognise the warning signs. Here’s a look at when to tell you to need to stop gambling, and where to find help if it’s gone too far.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
One of the biggest problems is that it can be hard to recognise you have a gambling problem until things get terrible. For many people, gambling is a harmless and fun social activity.
This attitude means you may not always recognise when your gambling habit has started to become a problem.
If you don’t recognise that you have a gambling addiction, then things will only go from bad to worse.
If you gamble, it’s helpful to regularly stop and assess whether you still have a healthy attitude to gambling, or whether it’s starting to become a dependency.
There are some warning signs of gambling addiction, such as:
- Lying about how much you gamble to family and friends
- Stealing or borrowing money to gamble
- Running up debts because of gambling.
- Being unable to focus on work because you’re planning your next bet
- Skipping work or making excuses to miss out on family events so you can gamble
- Prioritising spending real money on gambling rather than paying bills
- You are feeling guilty after you’ve placed a bet.
- Not being able to stop or cut back.
- Using gambling as a way to escape from other problems
- Taking increasingly more significant risks with your bets
- Getting a thrill or adrenaline rush from gambling
- Reliving your gambling experiences (either in your head or by telling others)
- Not being able to think about anything else other than gambling.
- Other people have criticised how much you gamble.
Some of these signs are more serious than others; in the early stages, the symptoms of having a gambling addiction may be much more subtle.
By being honest with yourself, you’ll be able to tell whether gambling has become a problem for you.
How to Prevent Problem Gambling
If you know that you have had problems with gambling in the past, or you’re concerned that you could develop an addiction to gambling, prevention is vital.
Being aware of your feelings and actions, and taking steps to avoid the compulsion to gamble will help you to overcome the urge.
Anyone can experience addiction, but there are preventative steps that work, such as:
- Avoiding boredom. Research suggests that those who struggle the most with boredom find it challenging to deal with dry periods in their life. It’s at these times that the compulsion to gamble can be the strongest.
- Return to an old hobby. It’s common for gamblers to drop doing things that they enjoy, such as hobbies and pastimes. Starting old hobbies again not only helps to combat boredom but helps to replace the unhealthy focus.
- Find alternative ways to manage stress. It’s common to use gambling and other vices such as drinking and smoking to deal with stressful periods in your life. Preparing different ways to deal with the stress will help you resist the urge to gamble. Exercising is an excellent option as it burns off adrenaline, leaving you feeling calmer and better able to sleep.
- Identify your triggers. Everyone has their reason to gamble, and there may be different triggers for different people. Make sure you understand when you are the most vulnerable and develop strategies to prevent relapse at those times.
- Focus on your losses. When most people think about gambling, they focus on the amount of money they could potentially win. By switching your focus to how much you could lose, and even past heavy losses, it helps to make the prospect much less attractive.
- Spend time with people that don’t gamble. This can help to change your perspective and will keep you away from temptation.
The critical thing is to accept the damage that your gambling has caused and be sure that you don’t want to engage in the same behaviour again.
If you’re only lukewarm about quitting gambling, you’ll find it much tougher to stick to your resolve on the more challenging days.
How to Move On
It’s not about beating yourself up over past mistakes. Lots of people make bad decisions or engage in behaviour which isn’t healthy. The important part is stepping back, recognising what needs to be change and committing to making better decisions in the future
It can be instrumental in writing a list of all the negative consequences which arose from your gambling. You could also write about the potential problems which it could have caused too if you’d continued.
If you have a day where you want to gamble, taking some time to read through your list could just cool the urge.
Useful Mental Strategies
Overcoming gambling depends on being able to successfully manage your cravings. Having mental strategies that deal with the thoughts and feelings associated with gambling can be beneficial in preventing a relapse.
Acceptance is a large part of resisting the compulsion to gamble. When you deny to yourself that you have a problem, it’s much easier to cave in and have a “harmless” flutter.
Stay honest to yourself
Being honest with yourself and accepting that gambling is a problem for you means acknowledging the fact that even one bet could lead to more severe issues. Refraining completely from gambling and avoiding all triggers will help you to successfully get over your addiction.
Some gamblers have superstitious beliefs, such as always betting when a horse has a particular word in its name.
Accepting that there is no link between superstitions and being lucky will help to firm your resolve to stop gambling. Coincidence and random events can and do occur; this is not the same as being a lucky omen!
It is useful to remind yourself that future events have no connection to past events. If you haven’t won before, this doesn’t increase your chances of winning in the future.
Horses that are about to race don’t know that you haven’t backed a winner yet and going on because you’re “due” a winner is a false logic that’s not based in fact.
If you feel a strong urge to gamble, it can be useful to assess what you were thinking about immediately before. What triggered the call to place a bet? Were you feeling excited? Depressed? Bored? Being able to objectively assess your thought processes will help you to develop the right strategies to guard against temptation.
Where to Get Help?
Many types of addiction come with a strong element of shame, which can prevent people from seeking help. Just like smoking, drinking or taking drugs, gambling is an addiction for which there is help readily available – you just have to reach out.
Cognitive behavioural therapy has had great results for treating gambling, and this can be offered via group sessions or 1:1 counselling. There are gambling support groups who will understand exactly what you’re experiencing and will be able to help you on your road to recovery.
If you’re not able to attend a local addiction centre or support group, it’s possible to get help over the phone or online. Regardless of where you are in the world, many international gambling support groups can either signpost you to your nearest service or provide remote help and support as needed.
In many cases, addiction occurs because of other problems, such as financial worries, loneliness or depression. A support group can help to ensure you receive holistic treatment for all your questions, rather than treating each one in isolation.
Don’t Be a Statistic
Gambling can be completely harmless and very entertaining, but it’s always important to be vigilant for signs that you are developing a problem.
If you think you are starting to gamble too much, you don’t need to give up forever, just take a break for a short while and when you return, make sure you gamble less frequently.
If your problem is more severe, then it’s essential, to be honest with yourself about the difficulties you’re experiencing. Excessive gambling and addiction is a genuine problem that can have dire consequences if you allow it to spiral.
The good news is that there is plenty of help available to avoid being caught in a worsening cycle of gambling. However, it’s up to you, to be honest with yourself and seek advice if you notice that you are struggling to keep a healthy balance between your life and gambling.
Last updated July 3rd, 2020