First and foremost, gaming is supposed to be fun. That's why it is often called gaming and not gambling. In other words, gambling is the way some people play, or game.
Everyone who enjoys the excitement of gambling, gambles as a pleasant diversion. When the gambling side of the game gets out of hand, the fun aspect of it disappears. Unfortunately, we can't always see the forest for the trees. That is, we can't see that we have a gambling problem because we think that we are just playing some interesting, challenging, and fun games.
There are often many stages that a gambler goes through before he/she realizes that there is a gambling problem. There are also several warning signs to alert gamblers that they are losing control and that they are losing sight of the big picture which is to have a pleasant diversion from their workaday lives, using gambling as a way of having fun.
Signs of a Gambling Problem
These signs can be divided into two main categories: changes in behavior and changes in one's emotional state.
Changes in Behavior
- Problem or compulsive gamblers always gamble with money they truly cannot afford to lose. Entertainment money can be spent in many ways with gambling being just one of them. But when we begin to gamble with money that is formally or informally earmarked for something else important, we have the beginning signs of a gambling disorder.
- Compulsive gamblers always have difficulties at work. Their performance sags, sometimes dramatically. They begin to miss days at work. They make ever more unbelievable excuses for missing work so they can spend their time gambling.
- Compulsive gamblers always have problems at home. They "disappear" for long stretches of time, even if that means only spending all of their time gambling online. In some cases the compulsive gambler becomes reclusive, not wanting to see or interact with anyone.
- Compulsive gamblers always have problems with their friends. They ask for small loans because they have lost so much money that they can't pay their bills. As the problem progresses, their requests for loans become more frequent, more strident, and especially for larger sums of money.
- In extreme case compulsive gamblers begin to steal to support their gambling. Sometimes they get involved in dangerous and illegal activity such as selling drugs.
- Compulsive gamblers lose self-respect. This often manifests itself in not caring how they look. They stop taking care of themselves in other ways. Some develop eating disorders. Compulsive gamblers who were already chronic over-eaters often go on eating binges.
Changes in Emotional State
- Compulsive gamblers always are in denial until they can no longer rationalize their behavior. Compulsive gambling is a real emotional or psychological disorder. Many compulsive gamblers deny that they have a problem until they hit bottom.
- Compulsive gamblers become extremely defensive about their gambling. Their defensiveness is a way to fend off both the criticism, however mild it may be, they receive from others and the reality that they are beginning to see but are not yet ready to admit, especially not to themselves.
- Compulsive gamblers always become depressed emotionally. Their fear of the future overwhelms them. The depression is a sign that they are close to hitting bottom because it is a way of avoiding the even more painful task of admitting that they have a problem and seeking help for it. In extreme cases, compulsive gamblers become suicidal.
- Compulsive gamblers become angry and combative at the slightest statement or question that they see as criticism, even about something totally unrelated to gambling. They see many benign comments as criticism connected to their gambling even when they aren't connected and even when they aren't really criticism.
Compulsive gambling is a serious disorder. It ruins families and can ruin the lives of the gamblers themselves. It keeps a powerful grip on the gambler, making it difficult to admit that there is a problem. Many compulsive gamblers hit bottom only after they have lost everything, the love of their families, their jobs, their homes, many of their most cherished possessions, and their self-respect.
It is for all these reasons that the gaming industry wants everyone to see gaming as primarily fun, as an aspect of entertainment. The gaming industry declares in the boldest possible terms that gaming is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
Every enterprise that is part of the gaming industry supports efforts to help compulsive gamblers rehabilitate themselves. The gaudy advertising is not directed at the problem gamblers; it is directed at everyone as an enticement to a few minutes of pleasant diversion through gaming. Behind the many ways casinos attract players to gamble at their sites or land casinos, is a sincere desire to avoid having people abuse gaming, to the detriment of everyone involved.
We all encourage anyone who suspects that he/she may have a gambling problem to stop gambling immediately and to seek help immediately. If you find yourself in a pawnshop selling something of value to raise money for gambling, leave at once. If you tell yourself that you will keep gambling "just until I get even" stop at once.