When gambling turns into a persistent and recurrent behavior which disrupts the daily activities and relationships of an individual and that too in the face of repeated negative results; it is known as compulsive gambling, pathological gambling or gambling disorder.  It is characterized by uncontrollable urges to continue gambling behavior and a willingness to risk everything one values in the hope of winning in gambling.

Interestingly compulsive gambling closely resembles and functions like drug addiction. Like drugs and alcohol, it hijacks brain’s reward system, leading to addiction. It also puts the victim into an unhealthy thinking pattern of denial and delusion whereby he is unable to see the real destruction and extent of the gambling disorder and whenever he gets a glimpse of it, he erases it off using, different tactics such as blaming, minimizing and using the power of excuses. The victim continuously chases betting, engage in efforts to hide gambling related activities, secretly ravishing savings and even resort to theft and fraud to support gambling.

There are many signs and symptoms that distinguish compulsive gambling apart, following are some of the many symptoms that a persons exhibits when he suffers from compulsive gambling

  • Thrill seeking behavior, seeking thrill from gambling risks
  • Progressively engaging in bigger gambling risks
  • Preoccupation with gambling
  • Recalling and reliving past gambling experiences especially the ones involving wins or near misses
  • Taking time away from family and work to gamble
  • Lying, concealing and cheating in order to protect gambling
  • Gambling as a coping strategy to cope with difficulties of life such as depression, helplessness etc
  • Borrowing and stealing money to support gambling
  • Failure to cut back on gambling even after repeated attempts

It is rare that gambling becomes a problem in the very beginning. More often the gambling problem progresses over time. Many a people enjoy social gambling before falling down for gambling as addiction.

During periods of distress, depression and other difficult emotional states, the urges to gamble can be very strong. It also shows that the behavior has now become an unhealthy coping skill. Eventually the victim will be engulfed by this preoccupation over time and with the progression of the illness. The casual gambling and betting then turns vicious.

Contrary to popular belief, a compulsive gambler thinks very differently. For them gambling is less about money and more about thrill and extraordinary excitement that comes with it. In order to sustain the thrill that comes with betting, they resort to bigger and riskier thrills and betting. This lands them into a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time.

People who suffer from compulsive gambling often have underlying drug issues, psychiatric and psychological problems and mood disorders. Many use alcohol and other drugs and many suffer from bipolarity or unipolar depression. Many a times, mental health professionals look for bipolar disorder and rule it out or treat (whatever the case maybe).

There are many myths and misunderstandings about compulsive gambling that make it a difficult to address and tackle the problem.  Due to these confusions and misunderstandings many people do not realize this behavior turning addictive. Following are some of these surprising myths

  • It’s not possible that a sporting activity like gambling turns into addiction.
  • Compulsive gambling is not a disorder or a disease, it is a financial problem
  • It only happens to irresponsible people, if done responsibly , gambling is nothing more than a sporting activity
  • It is not a problem if one can afford it.
  • If all their debts are paid and financial problems solved, compulsive gamblers can be rescues out of their addiction

If the above mentioned myths are realities for you or your loved one, it is imperative that you seek help immediately. Family members of anyone suffering from gambling addiction can get help in the form of counseling and training even when the patient himself is unwilling. These efforts can pave the way for acceptance and shaking of the denial in the mind and heart of gambling addict.