What Causes Gambling Addiction?

Gambling is a source of enjoyment for countless individuals. Those who gamble in moderation may occasionally place a bet on the horses or football or might play the lottery on a regular basis. However, they never allow their gambling to get out of control to the point where it becomes an obsession capable of destroying their life. But what causes gambling addiction, and could you be affected?

Do You Have a Gambling Addiction?

If you are worried about your gambling habits, then it might be the case that you could very well be at the start of a long and rocky road toward addiction. You may also be wondering what causes gambling addiction and why you are affected when others are not.

As you may already be aware, not everyone who gambles will develop an addiction. There are many people who can gamble without it ever becoming a problem, but then there are those for whom gambling destroys everything. Before looking at what causes gambling addiction though, it is important at this juncture to determine if you actually have a problem or not.

It is important that you consider your gambling habits and how gambling makes you feel. It could have been the case that you started by placing the occasional bet, but at the time you had full control and your thoughts were not consumed by the habit.

If you have since developed a problem, you are now less capable of controlling your gambling once you start. You might find that you are preoccupied with gambling and thinking about how and when you can find more money to feed your habit.

As a gambling addiction progresses, you will probably find that you need to take bigger risks and gamble with larger amounts of money to achieve the same thrill as before. This is a common characteristic of all addictions. Addiction is an illness of the brain and it affects the reward and pleasure centres of this organ. As the illness progresses, the brain starts to release fewer feel-good chemicals, meaning you derive less pleasure from the activity than you did before. The only ‘remedy’ for this is to increase the gambling – either by gambling more often or by gambling with larger amounts of money.

Consider how gambling makes you feel for a moment. Do you gamble to help you forget about reality? Do you feel as if you lose control when you gamble? Do you feel irritable or anxious when you run out of money while gambling? These are all signs of an addiction; if you are familiar with them, it is time to search out some professional help.

The Causes of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is like any other addiction in that the cause will not be the same for everyone. It is a complex illness but one that would be so much easier to treat if the cause for everyone affected was the same. Unfortunately, what causes gambling addiction in one person may not be the same for another.

Some individuals start gambling as a way to fill their time or to take their mind off a harsh reality. If gambling offers the affected person a way to escape, he or she may become obsessed with it. Others find that gambling is the perfect way to relieve stress caused by various life situations.

There are also those who believe that gambling is going to be the solution to all their financial problems. They may have seen adverts on TV or in magazines of people whose lives have been dramatically changed by a massive win on a gambling site. They then believe that they can win too and that when they do all their problems will be over.

Nevertheless, the reasons individuals gamble are not necessarily why they develop an addiction. As previously mentioned, not everyone who gambles will develop an addiction. It is not possible to pinpoint an exact cause for each person but there are factors that can make it more likely that one will develop an addiction while another will not. These factors include:

  • A Family History of Addiction – Those who have a family history of addiction are much more likely to develop an addiction themselves than someone who does not have such a family history. A combination of genes and environment can contribute to an addiction developing.
  • Early Exposure to Gambling – It is said that the earlier a person is exposed to gambling, the more likely it is that he or she will develop an addiction in later life.
  • Unresolved Trauma – People gamble for many reasons; some do so to escape painful memories associated with unresolved trauma. For example, those who have been abused, bullied, or who have lost a loved one will be more likely to use activities such as gambling to escape the reality of their situation.
  • A History of Substance Abuse – Gambling addiction is closely linked with substance abuse. Those who abuse substances such as alcohol are much more likely to lose their inhibitions and take risks and gambling has long been linked to substance abuse. In fact, it has been estimated that around half of all gambling addicts also have a substance abuse problem.

When considering the above causes of gambling addiction, the ease with which gambling can be carried out these days must also be considered. It used to be the case that those who wished to gamble would have to leave their homes to do so. They would have to go to their nearest betting shop, bingo hall, race track, or casino to have a bet. Today, gambling has become much more convenient.

The internet is available in every home and can be accessed from a home computer or a mobile device such as a tablet or a smartphone. Moreover, with gambling sites available online twenty-four hours a day, it has become extremely easy to gamble from the comfort of one’s home.

At the time of this writing, gambling sites are also actively encouraging people to open new accounts by using the lure of big wins. So with gambling becoming ever-more prevalent, it is no surprise that so many more individuals are developing gambling addictions.

The Negative Consequences of Gambling

Although gambling can be a fun activity when done in moderation, not everyone gambles in moderation. And as alluded to a few times in the above paragraphs, those that allow the activity to spiral out of control can potentially face disastrous consequences.

One of the most significant of these negative consequences of gambling addiction is the impact it has on the finances of the affected individual. It is often the case that many become hooked by the thrill of gambling after just a couple of betting experiences. Some will have a nice win and will then convince themselves that they are lucky and that this luck will continue. The person will then convince him or herself that a huge win is just around the corner. Nonetheless, more often than not their luck quickly runs out and they find that they are chasing their losses.

Once hooked, the affected individual will continue to gamble, convinced that he or she is going to hit a win imminently. Furthermore, he or she might start gambling with money that they cannot afford to lose believing that that elusive big win that will solve all their problems is just around the corner.

As the habit progresses, the gambling will spiral further and further out of control, to a point at which the person is in deep financial trouble and consequently in danger of losing everything he or she holds dear. It is often only at this point that those around them discover what has been going on.

In extreme cases, gambling addicts will have borrowed money from family members or friends. When that source of funds has dried up, they might take desperate measures by stealing the funds. The person might have convinced him/herself that he or she is only ‘borrowing’ the money and that as soon as that win arrives, they will put it back.

What the individual fails to realise that even if he or she does win, they will be unable to stop and will continue gambling until they have nothing left. The person is unable to resist the thrill of the gamble and incapable of stopping once they have started.

As you might imagine, this type of behaviour can cause an immense amount of stress. Gambling addicts often feel guilty or ashamed after they have spent money on gambling. They may have promised themselves that they were not going to gamble or that they would gamble a certain amount of money, but once they started, they lost control. And when all money has run out, they are flooded with feelings of guilt and shame.

The impact on the family is also enormous. Gambling addicts regularly lose control and spend whatever they can get their hands on. This may include money that was put aside for bills, food, rent, etc. Spending this money can then leave the family in dire financial straits, potentially causing them to go without certain essentials.

As the gambling addict is so preoccupied with gambling though, he or she is unable to see the damage being caused to those around them. This can then lead to the breakdown of relationships and a loss of trust.

Without treatment, the situation is only likely to get worse. As the pressure mounts on the gambling addict, he or she might then turn to chemical substances such as alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, which only exacerbates the situation. Those hiding their habit from loved ones may be suffering from mental and physical health problems, and many turn to suicide rather than speak out or deal with their issues.

Treatment for a Gambling Addiction

Since it is impossible to tell exactly what causes gambling addiction, there is no way to prevent it from occurring. However, if you do have the risk factors for gambling that we mentioned above, it is important to be mindful whenever you gamble.

What you should know though is that if you are already affected by a gambling addiction, you do not have to continue living under the weight of this illness. There is help available, but you have to be ready to make changes to your life. You must be prepared to quit gambling for good with the help of professional counsellors or therapists.

Gambling addiction does not go away by itself. You need to remember that without help you are unlikely to see any improvements in your current situation. While there are some who do manage to quit gambling with self-exclusion techniques, the causes of their illness will still exist, and it could cause a return to the habit in the future.

It is vital to address the issues that may have caused the gambling addiction in the first place; the best way to do this is with therapy. Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to find the reasons you developed a gambling addiction. You and a counsellor will work together to identify the negative thought processes that led to your negative behaviours. By challenging these thought patterns, you can learn to avoid gambling and to develop new positive ways of behaving going forward.

Gambling addiction has the potential to destroy your life, so getting treatment as soon as possible is crucial. Talk to us here at Sanctuary Lodge today to find out more about what causes gambling addiction and how you can overcome this illness once and for all.