Dazzling lights; wads of money; burly bouncers at the door; a place where fortunes are made.
This is the image of a casino as we know it. You see advertisements that make gambling look glamorous, something you can indulge in from the comfort of your bedroom. Oh well, what’s the harm in using a few quid in the fruit machine at my local pub, you ask.
Let’s just flip this picture for a minute to focus on a patient I saw the other day. We’ll call him Marc. The 42-year old lost his marriage, job and his two children because of gambling. He ended up bankrupt and depressed as a result.
Marc is not an isolated case. His story will resonate with millions of other gambling addicts across the world. So why do we think gambling is just recreational—a quick flutter on the horses over the weekend? Well, yes, it is all those things. But then it’s always easy to forget the Marcs, isn’t it?
Gambling, as a social pastime, is prevalent in most countries and cultures. Gambling is betting something of value (usually money) on an event whose outcome is determined by chance. The most common types of gambling are lotteries, bingo, playing cards, betting on sports, casino gambling, poker, slot machines and its variants, etc. With technological advances, it is now possible to gamble on one’s phone, laptop or television, often referred to collectively as remote gambling. Then there are the unaccounted for online and illegal gambling activities. So you see, access and opportunities are endless.
The gambling industry is a multi-billion pound money machine, which generates large revenues and employs tens of thousands of people in many countries, mostly in the developed world. Where’s the problem in that, ask pro-gambling liberals. Yes, they are right. But only partly. For most, gambling is and will only ever be a merely pleasurable pastime. However, for a tiny yet significant minority (around 1 to 3%), gambling turns into an addiction where a person is always preoccupied with making bets. The money he throws on betting goes up each time, as he chases his losses and ends up disrupting his personal, family and social life.
Though men gamble more than women, women develop gambling-related problems earlier. Gambling addiction cuts across social and economic divides but ethnic minorities and young people are especially vulnerable. Increased availability of gambling opportunities will result in greater gambling-related problems.
Gambling addiction can have devastating consequences on the gambler’s personal, family and work life. Most gamblers develop physical problems like stress-related cardiac and gastrointestinal complaints. Then there are psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol misuse. One out of ten gambling addicts attempts suicide at some point. Apart from damaging the gambler’s health, it can also cause financial hardships that lead to debts and bankruptcy.
It is also estimated that for every gambling addict, between eight and ten people are directly affected. This includes family (spouses, children and relatives), friends and work colleagues. Spouses of gamblers often bear the brunt of this addiction, and may end up being victims of domestic abuse and violence. A gambler’s children are known to have high rates of behavioural, emotional and substance misuse problems.
Do I have a gambling problem?
Answer ‘yes‘ or ‘no’ to each of these 10 questions:
- Do I spend a lot of time thinking about gambling?
- Am I spending larger amounts of money on gambling?
- Have I tried to cut down or stop gambling—but not been able to?
- Do I get restless or irritable if I try to cut down gambling?
- Do I gamble to escape from life’s difficulties or to cheer myself up?
- Do I carry on playing after losing money—to try and win it back?
- Have I lied to other people about how much time or money I spend gambling?
- Have I ever stolen money to fund gambling?
- Has gambling affected my relationships or my job?
- Do I get other people to lend me money when I have lost?
If you have answered ‘yes’
- Just once: You may have a problem; any one issue could be enough of a problem for you to seek help.
- Three times: Problem gambling—your gambling probably seems out of control; think about getting help.
- Five or more times: Pathological gambling—your gambling is probably affecting every part of your life; get help!
Where can I get help?
If you or someone dear to you has a gambling problem, please seek professional help. Please consult your doctor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. This depends very much on the availability of treatment services in your area. Psychological treatments (personal counseling or online counseling), psychotherapy (CBT—cognitive behaviour therapy), group therapy and support for families are some examples of the mainstay of treatment. There is also Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a self-help group modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. GA also runs support groups for families and friends affected by their loved ones’ gambling (Gam-Anon). In some instances, medications such as antidepressants will be beneficial. Early detection can help prevent gambling-related harm to the gambler, his family and society.
Photo: Srini Venkataramani