Don’t Bet on Online Gambling Addictions

Having an addiction is a serious problem. Whether its drugs, alcohol, shopping or gambling, all addictions follow the same development pattern and similar consequences. However, gambling addictions are a serious problem. Having an online gambling addiction is even more serious.

According to a 2002 American Psychological Association (APA) report, “people who use the internet to gamble may have more serious gambling problems than those who use slot machines or play the lottery.”* This report was one of the first to correctly predict that online gambling would “lead to more on-line gambling opportunities and the health and emotional difficulties that come with gambling disorders, including substance abuse, circulatory disease, depression and risky sexual behaviors.” Online gambling is a serious addiction that needs serious treatment.

What Games Are People Addicted to?
Popular online games include video bingo, slot machines, blackjack, poker, roulette and craps.

How Much Profit Does the Gambling Industry Make?
The gambling industry made 40 billion dollars in 2014 and has already made 41 billion dollars in 2015.

What is an Online Gaming Addiction?
Online gaming addictions, or pathological gambling, has been succinctly described as an “impulse control disorder, characterized by the inability to reduce or cease gambling, resulting in adverse social, psychological, financial, and legal consequences.” This means that gamblers have zero self-control and cannot control their impulsive behavior. There are many possible devastating side effects, which include divorce, suicide, depression, unemployment and homelessness.

Who is Affected?
A 1999 National Research Council report found that up to 2 percent of adults and 4 to 6 percent of adolescents are affected. The same study also found that among there is an inherited 0.9 – 1.5 percent prevalence rate among the American population for pathological gambling. More than 16 million people have been treated for a gambling addiction and more than half of those were are teenagers.

How Does it Affect the Gambler?
An online gambling addiction has serious mental and physical health consequences. Possible negative side effects include migraines, increased stress and anxiety, internal disorders, sleep problems and depression. A 2005 study published in the “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry” found online gambling resulted in substance abuse, mood instability, increase anxiety and personality disorders. Finally, the gambler often feels guilty and stressed, so they avoid family members and friends. Depression, substance abuse and suicide are a deadly combination that increases with online gambling addictions. Finally, gambling debts and desperation to continue gambling will motivate many gambles to engage in criminal activities.

Who Else Does it Affect?
Online gambling addictions unfortunately also affect the family and friends of the addicted individual. Family members are financial strained through losing money, property and savings. This increases stress and conflict, which is passed on to children, who feel upset and forgotten. Children oftentimes will take sides of parents and act out and misbehave in order to get attention. Domestic and family violence is also connected with online gambling addictions. Physical and emotional abuse are potential consequences of increased stress and conflict.

Why Do People Gamble Online?
People gamble for different reasons. Some people love the thrill and enjoy problem solving. Some sincerely want to earn money for themselves and their families. Although almost everybody expects to lose more than they win, some are desperate and delusional and think that they can quickly become a millionaire. Some gamblers convince themselves that they have a solid system that will ensure that they eventually win. For others, they are bored and lonely. For those who are already stressed and depressed, gambling offers an easy way to forget about pain, problems and pressures.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Online Gambling

There are many reasons why online gambling is more addictive than traditional gambling.
-The internet allows for 24/7 availability from the comfort of the gamblers home. Normally, a gambler would have to travel to an actual casino to gamble. Family members and employees would notice if a gambler was missing for a few days. The internet allows gambling addicts to access their games anywhere, anytime.
-Online gaming is convenient. Online gamblers can play while driving or in bed with their tablet, smart phone or laptop. As if to support this, researchers have found that gambling addiction rates increase the further away the gambler is from the casino.
-The internet is anonymous and therefore offers accessibility to minors and people who normally would not have access to casinos. Traditional casinos are able to ban problem gamblers and restrict access.
-It’s very easy and convenient for gamblers to multi-task and simultaneously access their bank account and the gambling website. Driving up to and going inside a brick and mortar bank takes more work and gives plenty of opportunities to talk yourself out of it.
-Electronic money tricks gamblers into thinking that it’s just a game. Seeing your digital bank account go down to zero is a very different experience from having a pile of money scooped away from in front of you. Online games and gambling games both take advantage of the fact that the internet experience creates a false virtual reality.
-The gambling designs are colorful, flashy and eye-catching. The games are fast passed and designed for pure entertainment. There are also helpful tutorials which clearly explain the rules. Finally, celebrities often endorse games.

How to Tell if Someone has an Online Gambling Problem

Traditional and online gambling addictions share similar behaviors, coping strategies and avoidance behaviors.
-Asking to borrow money.
-Lying to family members and employers.
-Ignoring work, family and relationship responsibilities.
-Flaunting large amounts of money, downplaying major losses.
-Hiding or hoarding money, secretive financial behavior and suspicious loans.
-Extreme mood swings with increased irritability, restlessness, craving and remorse.
-Too much time is spent gambling online and personal schedulers are often rearranged.
-The size and frequency of bets gradually increases, with higher likelihood of chasing lost bets (attempts to earn back money).

What Does Current Research Show?
-Only 25 percent of young women gamble compared to 50 of young men.
– 5 percent of young people will experience serious problems with gambling.
-The younger the gambler starts, the higher the risk for being addicted as an adult.
– The Public Sector Gaming Study Commission in 2000 found that traditional, legalized gambling does not increase pathological gambling.
-Gamblers may have poor life skills and engage in gambling as a coping method to avoid problems. A 2002 APA study entitled “Gaming machine addiction: The role of avoidance” concluded that “avoidance-motivated gambling is part of a more generalized pattern of avoidance coping…the findings also showed social support acted as a direct protective factor in relation to gambling frequency and problems and indirectly via avoidance and accessibility gambling motivations.” Clearly, gamblers need a strong social support network and the confidence to deal with their life’s problems.**

Is a Gambling Addiction an Actual Psychiatric Disorder?
Yes, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is the current classification book for psychiatric disorders. Anyone who meets at least 4 of the conditions below are considered to have a “pathological gambling” addiction.

1. Preoccupation with gambling.
2. Significant relationship, job and/or academic difficulties
3. Multiple unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop gambling.
4. Irritability and restlessness when trying to reduce or quit gambling habits.
5. Gambling as a way of avoiding problems or temporarily improving one’s mood.
6. Returning to gambling after losses as a way of earning back lost money (“chasing losses”).
7. A need to spend greater amounts of money in order to achieve the desired level of excitement.
8. Relying on others for money in order to get out of a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.
9. Lying to family members and friends in an attempt to cover up time spent or money lost while gambling.

Does an Online Gambling Addiction Require Professional Treatment?
Any addiction is a chronic disease that needs some form of treatment. However, online gambling addiction absolutely needs specialized, unique treatment.
The current standard is to use a combination of techniques from traditional gambling addiction and internet addiction treatment. This includes family counseling, group therapy and participating in a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. This is a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, where the addict choses a sponsor to guide and support them through the process.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be very helpful to assist compulsive gamblers understand their thoughts and feelings behind their behavior and develop strategies and techniques to avoid and overcome them. This is done through changing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors such as false beliefs and rationalizations. It teaches the gambler to resist gambling urges, directly deal with emotions (rather than avoid or escape) and solve work, financial and relationship problems causes by the addiction. The ultimate goal is to re-wire the brain into viewing gambling in a new way.

A variation of cognitive behavioral therapy is the Four Steps Program. This program attempts to change thoughts and behaviors through four steps; re-label, reattribute, refocus, and revalue.

In certain cases, a “detox” like inpatient treatment may be needed through clinics and residential treatment programs which may include medication. It may require the person to stay for a set amount of time, anywhere from 30 days to an entire year. Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs are more common. This allows patients to attend classes at a facility, but continue to live at home.

How to Maintain Recovery?
With the help of loved ones and therapy, addicts can successfully recover. However, staying in recovery is the biggest challenge. It is important to have a supportive social system, avoid tempting environments, limit internet usage, be accountable, give up control of finances and find more wholesome, social activities to engage in.

Overall, online gambling addiction is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that has very negative social, mental and physical effects on both the addicted and their family and friends. Online games are designed to lure in and entertain users and can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Teenagers are especially vulnerable because of the anonymity offered by online games. There are many obvious warning signs when a person is addicted to online gambling. Currently, psychology research shows that gambling is both an addictive psychological disease that is on the rise. The American Psychological Association considers it to be a “pathological gambling” condition that merits treatment. This treatment may be should be individualized but works best with social support groups.

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