Now let me start by saying that gambling itself isn’t a problem. Many people enjoy a flutter on the horses or the dogs during a day out, and betting on a football team to win makes the game more enjoyable for many people. Las Vegas draws millions of people every year with many happy to sit for hours at the slots or the blackjack table. It’s a bit of harmless fun right?
Well yes and no, but it depends on your perspective.
What Is Problem Gambling?
If you gamble for fun and you can control your spending, then you don’t have a problem. However, even though it starts out fun, it can quickly become all about recovering losses and getting stuck on a downward spiral that’s hard to get out of, resulting in an unhealthy gambling addiction.
According to the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (Edition 11), gambling disorder is:
1) impaired control over gambling;
2) increasing priority given to gambling to the extent that gambling takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
3) continuation or escalation of gambling despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
The pattern of gambling behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gambling behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe”
So in other words, when gambling impacts on your life in a big way and stops you doing your normal daily activities, it is an addiction and you need help.
Gambling Addiction Is Akin To Drug Addiction
Last year I tried my hand at matched betting. This is where you take advantage of offers given out by gambling platforms to place complimentary bets on a betting exchange and free up the money that they offer as a temptation to start gambling with them. The bets are risk free providing you follow a specific set of rules and only bet what the rules guide you to do. I made around £500 before Christmas, then I stopped due to lack of time to keep it up.
Since then, I have had numerous texts, phone calls and emails from the various platforms I signed up to, trying to lure me back again with offers of “free bets” and “exclusive offers”. Now if I was a person who had a predilection for becoming addicted, I can certainly see how these so-called “offers” could be the trigger for some problematic gambling to develop.
As you may be aware, I am training to become a GP, and in one of my weekly teaching sessions, I learnt about drug addiction – to say I was naive before this was an understatement. Drug dealers now have sophisticated marketing and coercion techniques to get users to come back to them time and time again. They give away “freebies”, “tasters” and make “offers” to get the person hooked, then bombard them with texts and phone calls to keep them coming back for more (even when they’re trying to get clean).
I can see some scary similarities with the gambling sites. I know that it doesn’t seem to be in quite the same league – with gambling being legal of course, but I can see how an addict could easily succumb to the slick marketing techniques and simple “one-click” gambling platforms that can be uploaded onto a smartphone within minutes.
Why Do People Gamble?
This is quite a difficult question to answer, because not even the individual may not know. For many of us, the idea of winning the lottery is exciting – we buy a ticket and wait in anticipation of the draw, imaging what life would be like if we had “the big win”.
I won a little bit of money on a scratch card recently (£10) and it was fun! But I spent the money on groceries instead of buying more cards, knowing full well that my luck was unlikely to come in again.
For other people it is a kind of escapism. They get a good feeling when they play, and it offers a distraction from real life. Boredom due to lack of anything to do can also be a trigger. For others it’s just “what they do” with their friends and makes a night out a little bit more exciting.
It’s a complex problem, and people will have many different triggers for why they want to gamble. There is a fine line though between fun and developing a significant problem.
How Do I Know If I Am At Risk?
In a report prepared for the gambling commission published in 2017 (covering England, Wales and Scotland), 63% of adults over the age of 16 had gambled in the past year with men gambling more than women (66% vs. 59%). This includes people who play the lottery, do scratchcards, or gamble in some other way.
This is what else they found:
PGSI Score – (use this to test yourself)
To identify people who are at risk of gambling problems, they used the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) and asked questions based on these criteria:
All nine PGSI items have the following possible responses: never, sometimes, most of the time, almost always.
The response codes for each item are scored like this:
>> score 0 for each response of ‘never’;
>> score 1 for each response of ‘sometimes’;
>> score 2 for each ‘most of the time’;
>> score 3 for each ‘almost always’.
This means a PSGI score of between 0 and 27 points is possible.
There are four classifications categories for PGSI scores.
In the report they found that 3.9% of adults were classified as “at-risk” gamblers (low-risk or moderate-risk) and 0.8% were classified as problem gamblers.
Type Of Gambling
The highest rates of problem gambling were those who admitted to taking part in 7 or more different types of gambling activities including:
- spread betting (20.1%)
- betting via a betting exchange (16.2%)
- playing poker in pubs or clubs (15.9%)
- betting offline on events other than sports or horse or dog racing (15.5%)
- playing machines in bookmakers (11.5%)
Those aged 16-34 years old were most likely to be at risk of a gambling addiction.
Those in employment or classed as unemployed were more likely than other groups to have participated in most gambling activities, for example offline betting on horse racing, slot machines and casino table games.
Unemployed adults were more likely than any other group to play machines in bookmakers (7%, compared with 4% or less in other groups).
“At-risk” gamblers were more likely to be found among the unemployed.
As you can see, there are a lot of risk-factors that could lead to developing a problem with gambling. If you, or someone your know shows signs of any of the above, then carry on reading to find out how to help yourself or someone else.
I Think I Have A Problem, What Can I Do?
Thankfully there is plenty of help out there. Here are some things you can do right now to get started:
- The first thing is to get rid of immediate temptations. This seems obvious, but it isn’t necessarily easy. Get all apps off your phone, uncouple all your cards from the sites and shut down your accounts. Unsubscribe from email alerts and block text messages and phone calls. If you are seriously addicted, this is going to be hard to do alone. You will need to enlist the help of friends or family members to do it with you. Joining a support group in your area could also be helpful for you.
- Download software like Gamban. This literally BLOCKS gambling apps on your device. There is a small fee attached to it, but it’s worth it if you really want to change your behaviour. The good news is that all university students with a .ac.uk email address can access this FOR FREE, and anyone receiving support from Gamcare gets it for free too.
- Work out your triggers – what sets off your habit? Is it a particular sport or event? Is it when you see a certain friend? You’re going to need to avoid this trigger while you’re in the early stages of quitting.
- Find a distraction. If gambling was taking over your life, then you’ll have a huge void to fill. Re-engage with friends (non-triggers!) and family. Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old one – you could go to the gym or take up a sport. Do something to distract you and give you a positive buzz.
- Check out Gamblers Anonymous and find a meeting you can join so you can get support from others in your situation.
- Try these sites for more tips:
I Have A Friend/Partner/Family Member Who I Think Has A Problem, How Do I Tackle This?
Gamcare.org.uk has some really helpful resources you can access. They offer a helpful section of advice, and a helpline number you can call.
Here are a few important ways you can help them (and yourself) that I have taken directly from their site:
- Let them know you are prepared to support them;
- Talk to them about how their gambling affects you. They need to understand the consequences of their gambling and how it makes you feel. Try to avoid doing this when either of you are angry or emotional;
- Limit the financial impact that gambling has on you. For example, you could separate your bank account and protect your own money;
- Suggest to them that they call the National Gambling Helpline (Freephone 0808 8020 133 or via web chat on the NetLine);
- If you believe that they may be thinking about harming themselves, they should seek professional help immediately. Their GP could be the first point of contact, or go to A&E if an attempt is being seriously contemplated. (Gamcare also has advice for GPs, so you might want to print the page out and show it to them so they can help.)
- Try not to bail them out with loans or cover their gambling losses for them. This may only prolong the problem – they need to be responsible for the consequences for their gambling;
- You can respond to requests for financial ‘bailouts’ with an answer that contains these messages: “I care about you and I don’t want you to suffer” or “I’m saying ‘no’ for your own good.”
- Try not to issue ultimatums. These are rarely effective as they can often increase the sense of guilt and shame a gambler feels about their behaviour;
- Do not trust them with money until the dependency is broken. If they agree, it may be helpful to manage their money for a short period.
Gambling is a complex problem – and thankfully not everyone is at risk of addiction. But if the level of gambling is starting to impact on finances, family, friends and work in a significant way, then enough is enough and it’s time to stop.
Get professional help and ask for support from your friends and family. It’s not a sign of weakness if you do. Gambling addiction can be beaten, so don’t give up. Just take it one day at a time.
Feel free to come on over to my private Facebook group for support from some amazing like-minded individuals. You don’t have to do this alone.
Until next time,