Gambling might be really fun and it IS fun unless it stops being a way of entertaining yourself from time to time and becomes an addiction. Unfortunately, we are not perfect and sometimes, the thing we were thinking could never happen to us starts to ruin our life and relationships with friends and family. Luckily, there is always a way out.
Responsible gambling is what should be pursued and promoted but if you or some of your loved ones have failed — know that you’re not alone and dive deep into our guide to gambling addiction where you’ll find all the necessary information and helpful resources.
Gambling Addiction Causes
No one can clearly say what is the exact reason for gambling addiction and it can hardly be limited to just one. In most cases, it’s a combination of factors that make a person stop controlling themselves and get involved in problem gambling. Here are the most common of them.
All our brains are different and that’s the beauty. Some of us get excited from painting, some adore watching old movies made in the 40s, and some get super-excited when they get a winning combination in slots. Their brains usually don’t produce the necessary amount of serotonin and norepinephrine — hormones linked to stress and happiness — so they need to boost them by playing gambling games.
Studies by scientists and researchers from Imperial College London suggested that the brains of gambling addicts respond to gambling activities just like the drug addicts’ response to getting a drug. And even though gambling addiction doesn’t damage your physical health that much, it’s still pretty dangerous. Besides, there are some hypotheses that gambling addiction can be genetically conditioned. So if you know that your grandma was keen on poker — better be careful with casinos.
The reason for gambling addiction to appear might also be more psychological than biological. The addict’s brain can be working perfectly on the physical side but the way a person thinks might be completely distorted. That includes various weird superstitions (like throwing a coin several times waiting for it to flip on the specific side and thinking that it can affect the result of the game). People with a gambling addiction can be super-confident in what they are doing and while it’s usually a great thing that helps you achieve success in your job or personal life, that’s not useful while playing gambling games. The winning doesn’t depend on how confident you are when pulling a lever of the one-arm bandit or while playing another round of blackjack but it can seriously affect how much money you spend at the end of the day.
Social causes might be the most important and the most widespread ones in gambling addiction cases and they include all the outside factors that can influence the person’s behavior and psychological state. The addiction can be triggered by problems at work or in personal life, for example.
Some people believe that gambling can solve their financial situation and only make it worse. We can’t stress this more — gambling, whether online or offline, should be treated as a way to have fun or unwind after a long day but it can’t be a source of income unless you are a professional poker player winning the world’s tournaments. Excessive stress or loneliness, death in the family and other difficult life events, complicated relationships with S.O. or family members — all of these factors can ignite gambling addiction though it doesn’t mean every person struggling through a difficult period will become addicted to gambling games.
Problem Gambling Signs and Symptoms
The first step toward the solution to the problem is to admit that the problem exists. But how do you know that you or someone you care about is addicted to gambling? Well, some signs can show it. If you observe several of them or even just one — consider talking about it to a specialist or contacting one of the helpful resources we’ll mention later in this article.
Your positive emotions are substituted with negative ones
What you should get from gambling games is fun, thrill, and a controlled feeling of excitement. But what if all those emotions are left far behind and now gambling games negatively affect your mental state? People with gambling addiction start feeling sad, anxious, and stressed. We all can get slightly upset when losing a round in our favorite game but that feeling goes to extremes when you are an addict.
Gambling becomes a priority
There is nothing bad in playing gambling games in your spare time but you should be concerned when it becomes the only activity you want to get involved in. Preferring gambling to other important things like work, hobbies, and time with friends or family is one of the main symptoms of addiction.
Entertainment is no more a goal
One more signal of addiction is that a person stops playing games to have fun and starts doing it for some other reasons. It can be a way to run from real-life problems, escape anxiety, or whatever else. It’s important to remember that games can’t solve any of your issues — it’s only you who can.
You start chasing losses
It’s impossible to win constantly — every frequent player knows it very well. There is a house edge you just can’t beat, there are losing streaks, and there is Mercury in retrograde that just can’t let you get that jackpot. And the best solution here is to put the game aside and try your luck next time. But not when you are a gambling addict. People with a gambling addiction will play more and more, trying to recover the losses they got and thus putting themselves even in a deeper hole.
Money problems occur
In most cases, people start their way into the world of gambling games with small bets. But for the time being, that amount can significantly increase and continue rising. It’s probably not a big deal when you are a millionaire but if you start playing with money set aside for more important things like paying bills, buying your mum’s birthday present, or going on a holiday — that’s a clear sign of the addiction.
You just can’t stop
When you are a responsible player, you know when it’s time to say “stop”, get out of the casino or close a laptop and go do some other stuff. When you are a compulsive gambler, there is not such a thing as “getting bored of games”. You just play and play and can’t stop even if you feel like you want to.
Understanding the Phases of Compulsive Gambling
A person doesn’t just fall into addiction in one day — it’s a continuous process with things slowly getting worse with time. In most cases, specialists define four main stages:
- the winning phase;
- the losing phase;
- the desperation phase;
- and the hopeless phase.
Now let’s look at them in more detail to understand what happens with an addict at each stage.
The Winning Phase
The phrase got its name from the fact that gambling addiction sometimes appears after a big (or relatively big win). A person wins the money and gets a super-optimistic and positive attitude toward gambling, starts playing more often to win more, or even believes to be born under a lucky star or has some special gambling skills that need to be pursued. It’s not an obligatory stage though — some players can develop addiction with no winning stage at all. The duration of the winning stage is also not stable: while some can stay in it for years or even decades, the others will move forward to the next one within a couple of weeks.
The Losing Phase
The losing phase is much less positive than you could get from its name. At this stage, there is a significant increase in the frequency of gambling — the player has earned some tolerance and now needs to play more to get the same feeling of excitement they could feel in the beginning. This is when an addict starts losing more money than it would be reasonable to lose and gets into debt. The closing stage is the one when the player’s relationship with his friends and family becomes worse as one chooses gambling as the main priority and starts to hide it from everyone due to shame or anxiety.
The Desperation Phase
At this stage, an addict gets desperate as there is no more control over the situation. The amount of debts significantly increases and it looks like there is no way to pay them back but to play more and recover the losses. In the desperation phase, a person with an addiction might want to stop gambling but in most cases, it’s too late, and professional help is needed to cut the addiction. Even physical health may suffer at this point due to anxiety, restlessness, and sleep problems.
The Hopeless Phase
The hopeless phase is also not an inevitable one as most addicts manage to seek help before they reach the very bottom. At this stage, a person with addiction sees no possible ways out of the situation. Alcohol and drug abuse are frequent companions of the hopeless stage. Moreover, 20% of addicts may attempt suicide at this point.
On a more positive note: the hopeless phase is not the last one. If one manages to draft off the bottom and gets the necessary treatment, there are two more phases ahead — the rebuilding one and grows one. This is when one rebuilds their ability to enjoy life without gambling, grows back relationships, and finds other ways to solve personal problems and issues.
How to Stay Safe When Gambling Online
The best way to fight gambling addiction is to prevent it. It’s so much easier to stay safe when playing and learn to control yourself than to deal with the consequences later. Here are the tips you can follow to stay safe when gambling online:
- Choose reliable casinos only. We’ll talk later about the gambling operators’ responsibility in more detail but the one thing to know is that reputable casinos do their best to not let players fall into addiction. To find a reliable casino, read the players’ and industry experts’ reviews or pick a website from the OnlineCasinoHex list as your safety is our main priority and we always check every casino before it makes it to our selection.
- Remember to have fun. It’s always pleasant to win but winning shouldn’t be your only goal when gambling while the fun should. Think about online gambling as a way to entertain yourself or to unload your brain after a long and difficult day at work but don’t consider it as a way of earning money or solving your financial problems as it can lead to addiction.
- Bet the money you are ready to lose. Losing is inevitable while playing gambling games online so never bet the money you can’t afford to lose. Make yourself a separate e-wallet for online gambling purposes and when you run out of funds there — well, it’s time to switch to other things until the better times.
- Watch the time. In land-based casinos, they do everything for you to lose track of time: there are no windows for you to see the sun has set and no clocks on the walls. When gambling online, you have a chance to keep an eye on how long you are playing and it’s better not to turn it into “too long”. An hour on the weekend or a couple of rounds in a mobile casino during a coffee break won’t do any harm but make sure you don’t spend hours spinning the reels instead of going out or watching the new episode of your favorite TV show.
- Don’t make bets when you are drunk. Sometimes, it’s better to start texting your ex than to open an online casino website. When intoxicated, you can’t control yourself properly and can easily lose more money than you intended and it’s not the thing you can recover in the morning by “sorry I was drunk” text.
- One win is enough. If you win, there is a huge temptation to continue playing and win even more. But in reality, there are more chances to lose all the previous winnings than of getting additional ones. So if you were lucky to win some money — better call it a day and log out of the casino.
As you can see, the tips are super-easy to follow. Remember them while playing and you can save yourself a lot of problems in the future and let gambling bring you only positive emotions and true fun.
How to Prevent Gambling Disorders?
In the previous passage, we covered the simplest rules you can follow to stay safe while gambling. But what if you already feel that it becomes harder to stop or if you know yourself pretty well to understand there might be a problem if you start making bets? The easiest solution here will be to just not get involved in gambling activities at all but they are so much fun, aren’t they? If you want to make bets in online casinos and don’t get into trouble, there is a list of more specific recommendations that can help you control the gaming process more.
- Unsubscribe from the casinos’ marketing emails. Yeah, there might be some juicy bonuses and promotions announced but they can stimulate gambling and make you start playing even if you weren’t going to. You won’t miss anything important and will keep your mailbox cleaner if you decide just not to get those emails. To do it, find the “unsubscribe” link that is usually located at the very bottom of the mail or contact the casino’s customer support if you can’t do it yourself.
- Set a deposit limit. It can either be your “imaginary” limit when you decide that you can’t deposit more than $20 a week, for example, or stop playing when you reach the limit. Or, if you are not sure that you can keep that promise, you can set a limit in the casino and it will not be able to either accept your money or increase the limit when you try to do it.
- Set a limit on losses. The same goes for the money you lose. If you think a deposit limit is not an option for you, stick to the limit on losses so that the casino will temporarily block you from betting when you reach that limit. It can be a daily, weekly, or monthly one.
- Set a time limit. If a problem is not in the money you lose but rather in the time you spend in online casinos, you can opt for a time-out on the website you are usually playing in. Just like in the previous point, you’ll be temporarily banned from the website when you reach your limit and will only be able to start betting again when the new day/week/month starts. Who knows, you might even lose your interest in games till that time.
- Block yourself from a casino. If you think it’s time for real action, you can contact customer support of the casino and ask them to completely block your account. Any reliable gambling venue should do it immediately with no questions asked as soon as you prove your identity. In some cases, it can also be done on behalf of the relatives who are worried about their loved one having a gambling addiction.
- Sign in to GamStop. It’s the UK service that gets you blocked from every gambling website licensed on the territory of the United Kingdom. It can either be a temporary ban or a permanent one.
Gambling Operators’ Responsibility
Your safety is always in your own hands but it’s good to have someone to help you if you feel unconfident. That’s why casino operators should be involved in the process of gambling addiction prevention and be ready to lend a helping hand to those in need. Every business’s goal is to earn money and online casinos are not an exemption but earning money on people with gambling addiction is bad for karma and no reliable gambling website will practice it. So how do you tell a reliable casino from a greedy one in this case?
- There should be a way to check yourself. Reliable online casinos provide a test that you can undergo to see whether you have a gambling addiction or how close you are to one. If there is bad news after the test, the casino should provide you with helpful contacts and resources for gambling addicts.
- There should be a possibility of setting the limits. One more sign of a reliable and committed online casino is that it allows for setting time and money limits for the players. It means you can any time define the amount of time and money you can spend in the casino and it will temporarily block you from playing as soon as the limit is reached. It’s the simplest and one of the most useful ways to keep gambling addiction under control in the initial stage and don’t let it grow worse.
- You should be able to hold aloof anytime. When temporary blocks don’t work for you, you can contact the casino’s customer support asking to block you from their venue immediately and with no chance of restoring. A reliable casino will never deny and will do its best to help you or your loved ones fight gambling addiction.
Protect Minors from Gambling
We often think about how to protect our kids from violence, bullying, or drug addiction but rarely keep gambling in mind as it’s considered as something that children are just not interested in. Kids see gambling advertisements everywhere and might want to try it just for fun or to earn money in “the easiest way”. Playing slots seems much more attractive than mowing your neighbor’s lawn. Except for the fact that underage gambling is illegal and seriously discouraged by casino operators (that’s why they always check your identity before you can sign up and make a deposit), it’s also very dangerous.
According to LeoSafePlay statistics, kids are 300% more likely to develop an addiction than adults. They also don’t have their own in most cases so a minor addicted to gambling might get involved in crimes. So protecting minors from gambling should become one of the priorities both for parents, operators, and authorities. You can’t control everything your child is doing when you are not around but you can follow several simple recommendations to decrease the chances of a kid starting playing gambling games.
- Keep your online casinos out of reach. Make sure you don’t leave a website open when there are kids around and don’t keep your login details written down in a place where minors can accidentally find them.
- Install blocking software on your computer and your child’s computer as well. Programs like NetNanny or CyberPatrol will block access to gambling websites (or whatever websites you don’t want your kids to visit as well) and won’t let kids open them either accidentally or on purpose.
- Talk to the kids. Tell them what gambling is, why it’s bad for kids, and why they shouldn’t even try it before reaching the legal age. Explain that it’s not the way of getting money and that there are more chances to lose in the long run than to win a fortune.
Getting Help for Problem Gambling
Preventing gambling addiction is key but sometimes you can realize that there is a problem only when it’s already rather serious and you can’t just stop gambling by willpower alone. Don’t worry, it’s never too late and there is always a way out of gambling addiction. So what do you do when in trouble?
- First of all, talk to your family or close friends. We know how difficult it can be to admit that you have a problem and tell about it to your loved ones but emotional support is one of the most significant factors of recovery from any kind of addiction. So share your thoughts and feelings and ask for help if you feel like you need some. You can ask a friend to become your emergency contact to call when you feel the urge to gamble or to spend more time together so that you can distract yourself.
- Give yourself time to think. Every time you want to make a bet, don’t take immediate action and postpone it for a specific period. Let it be a few hours or a day. In most cases, you will have other things to do until that time. And when you urge to play again — repeat the thinking process.
- Practice visualizing. Imagine what is going to happen and how you are going to feel when you lose your grip and make a bet. We are pretty sure it’s not something good so why experience those emotions when you can not?
- Seek treatment. All those recommendations are good and useful but there is only the addition to general treatment. It’s hard and almost impossible to fight gambling addiction by yourself so you may want to contact a psychotherapist who will start the counseling program and, in some cases, will prescribe you medication to help cope with withdrawal symptoms. There is no magic pill to cure addiction in a day but antidepressants together with therapy sessions have shown some positive results. There are also self-help resources and communities of people struggling with the same problem and gathering to help each other — we will share the contacts in the last passage of this article.
Gambling Addiction Resources
As we’ve already said, you are never alone in your addiction. Luckily, there are special services helping people in trouble — they’ve already helped thousands of gambling addicts and know exactly what to do and what steps to take to recover. Contact them if you need help and see what you can do together. If you are a friend or a family member of someone with a gambling addiction, don’t hesitate to reach local recovery programs or one of the resources we’ll name below as they can explain the roadmap and give recommendations on how to act and what not to do.
- Gamblers Anonymous Gamblers Anonymous is an international network of people struggling with gambling addiction. Thanks to the service, you can find a meeting near you or talk to someone on the hotline when you need immediate help. There is also a bunch of useful information collected on the official website so give it some of your time and don’t hesitate to visit a meeting. No one wins a fight alone and it’s always nice to have someone to get your back, especially if they know what you are going through.
- GamCare If you are located in the UK, you can reach the GamCare charity service that is funded by industry participants like casino operators or game developers. Here, you can find helpful information, talk to a counselor or even join a group online chat to discuss your problems and discoveries with other people. There is also a self-assessment test to take and learn how safe your gambling is and whether it’s time to take action.
- BeGambleAware Here is one more UK-located service aimed to help people with gambling addiction. It operates according to National Responsible Gambling Strategy and provides confidential help to those suffering from gambling addiction. Hotline and live chat are available 24/7 so there is always someone to talk to.
- ProblemGambling The help services are not limited to the UK. Canada-based gamblers considering reaching for help can contact the Canadian ProblemGambling service. There is a special section for family support and self-help recommendations to friends and family of an addict as well as a community forum and a self-assessment quiz.
Good news for the Canadian players: if you want to take a step toward responsible gambling or get help from gambling addiction for you or someone close to you, there is a local problem gambling council in every Canadian province. Below, you’ll find a list of local institutions that you can reach at any moment.
- Alberta. Alberta Health Services.Call 1-866-332-2322 for addiction support.
- British Columbia. British Columbia Partnership for Responsible GamblingCall 1-888-795-6111 for addiction support.
- Manitoba. Addictions Foundation in ManitobaCall 1-855-662-6605 for addiction support.
- New Brunswick. New Brunswick HealthCall 1-800-461-1234 for addiction support.
- Newfoundland. Newfoundland Labrador Health and Community ServicesCall 1-877-999-7589 for addiction support.
- Northwest Territories. NWT Health and Social ServicesCall 1-800-661-0844 for addiction support.
- Nova Scotia. Problem Gambling Help LineCall 1-888-347-8888 for addiction support.
- Nunavut. Nunavut Health and Social ServicesCall 1-800-265-3333 for addiction support.
- Ontario. ConnexOntarioCall 1-866-531-2600 for addiction support.
- Prince Edward Island. Health PEI Gambling Addiction ServicesCall 1-855-255-4255 for addiction support.
- Quebec. Gambling: Help and ReferralCall 1-800-461-0140 for addiction support.
- Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Health — GamblingCall 1-306-787-7239 for addiction support.
- Yukon Territory. Yukon Health and Social ServicesCall 1-800-661-0408 for addiction support.
As you can see, there are numerous ways to get help, all within arm’s reach. And even though the first step is the most difficult one, it’s worth taking. OnlineCasinoHex is always ready to provide you with information about responsible gambling as well as recommend reliable casinos that take the players’ safety seriously to prevent online gambling addiction before it has a chance to develop.