When most people think of “addiction,” they primarily think of substances. Alcohol, tobacco, other illicit drugs, and even food, are typically what comes to mind.
Although gambling has long been accepted as an addictive behavior, recognizing the warning signs isn’t always as straightforward as it is with other compulsions. A fun night at the bar isn’t going to make you think it’s okay to be an alcoholic, but a good night at the casino might convince you that it’s okay to keep on gambling.
In this article, I’ll explain the signs that you might be heading down the path toward a gambling addiction.
1 – You Start to Hide It From Your Friends and Family
When you start hiding certain behaviors because you know they’re wrong, that’s a cause for concern.
For a good percentage of gamblers, whether it’s sports bettors or casino players, real money gambling is a social activity. You do it because you like sharing the thrill along with your friends. When you’ve come to the point where you feel like you need to hide it, lest you be judged by the ones you care about, that should be a wake-up call.
If you find yourself lying when a friend asks about the last time you’ve gambled, or can’t bring yourself to be honest about how frequently you’ve visited the casino or the sportsbook, think about the reasons for your untruthfulness. You can lie to others, but you can’t lie to yourself.
2 – You Start Gambling With Money You Can’t Afford to Lose
One of the most common features of gambling addiction is making bets using money you simply can’t afford to lose. This might be a part of your budget you’ve set aside for essentials like rent, food, or childcare, but any money you’re using that isn’t in your bankroll can be a step in the wrong direction.
If you ever go into a bet you’ve made thinking to yourself, “I need to win or else I’m going to be in serious financial trouble,” you need to take a step back and recognize the impact gambling is having on your life. Gambling is meant to be a source of entertainment, not a real and reliable source of income.
Furthermore, if you’ve ever considered taking out a loan to pay for a gambling debt or, worse, you already took out a loan to make a bet to pay off a gambling debt, then it’s time that you re-evaluate your habits.
3 – You Bet on Things You Don’t Know or Care About
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with betting on just about any football game that’s on TV that evening. At least you know the sport and can get some background to make an educated decision. What I’m referring to in this section is placing bets on things you have absolutely no business gambling on.
Sports betting is supposed to make the games more entertaining. When you have a little skin in the game, it makes the viewing experience that much more exciting and engaging. However, if you’re gambling on every single sporting event that you can find online, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
When your bets start going outside the realm of entertainment, your gambling habit is starting to get away from you. In a sense it’s controlling you rather than the other way around.
If you find yourself regularly betting on sporting events that you either know nothing about simply because you want to have some action on the line, that’s crossing the line.
4 – You Don’t Get the Thrill Anymore
For most, the “rush” that accompanies gambling is what it’s all about. When that feeling starts to be replaced by anxiety and stress, it’s an indication that something is, for lack of a better word, broken.
In the same way that drug or alcohol addicts build up a tolerance to their substance of choice, so too do gambling addicts build up a tolerance to the thrill of gambling. For these individuals, in order to reach the same “high,” the stakes need to be increasingly-higher. That means gambling with amounts of money that can have a serious impact on
their own lives or the lives of their families.
Once the fun is taken out of gambling and it starts to feel like you “need” to do it more than you “want” to do it, it’s time to stop.
5 – You Feel Regret Afterwards
One interesting characteristic shown by addicts of all types is that they know what they’re doing is wrong but still can’t stop doing it. In fact, if they didn’t know it was wrong, it might not be an addiction after all.
If your trip to the casino is followed up by feelings of regret, shame, or embarrassment (regardless of whether you won or not), you know that your behavior is no longer voluntary and has risen to the level of an addiction.
Keep in mind that this does take some serious self-reflection to recognize when your behavior is crossing the line. If visiting the casino has become a habit that’s started to feel less like “entertainment” and more like “compulsive behavior,” it might be time to step away.
6 – When You’re Not Gambling, Something’s Missing
One of the tell-tale signs that a behavior is becoming an addiction is when you feel a certain void in its absence. For example, if you’re watching a football game and something just feels off because you don’t have any money on the line, it should tell you something about your gambling habit.
In terms of drug and alcohol addiction, this type of feeling might be considered an “itch.” For cigarette smokers, it’s more commonly referred to as a craving. Regardless of the term you use, the overarching sentiment is that if you feel a draw toward something which is a behavior detrimental to your physical or mental health, you’re entering addiction territory.
7 – You Play Until Your Money Is Gone
Don’t get me wrong, having trouble “quitting while you’re ahead” is something that plagues even the most rational and non-addicted gamblers. With that being said, if it feels like you can’t leave until all your money is gone every time you go to gamble, that’s a serious problem.
If you’ve visiting a casino recently, you might have observed some of this type of behavior in the slot machine section of the gaming floor. There are often people sitting for hours on end, almost lifelessly pulling the lever over and over. Sometimes, you can recognize a gambling addiction just by observing.
The bottom line here is that if you feel like you have immense trouble leaving while you still have some money to play with, that’s a clear sign that you aren’t in control.
8 – You’ve Stolen Money to Use for Gambling
At some point, just about all gamblers have personally experienced at least one of the things on this list. Just because you’ve shown a sign of compulsive gambling once or twice in your life, it doesn’t necessarily make you a full-blown addict. This, however, is a different story.
If you’ve ever gone so far as to steal money in order to gamble, that’s a nearly certain sign of addiction. In your mind, you may have tried to justify it by telling yourself you’ll pay it back eventually or you’re certain you can win so it’s no big deal.
Stealing money, for any reason, is almost always indicative of an addiction. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person, but it does mean you might need to seek help.
It should be noted that addiction, in and of itself, is a real and medically-diagnosable problem. If you’re feeling like the grip you once had on gambling is slowly slipping out of your control, there are a number of resources available to you.
Contact your state’s gambling addiction line if you’re experiencing some of the behaviors in this article. The best time to get help is before something serious happens to you or your family.
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