It’s that time of year again – March Madness is upon us, and many people use the occasion for gambling. For many people, gambling can be a fun way to relieve stress, but for others, it can quickly spiral out of control.
Approximately six to eight million people meet the criteria for a gambling addiction, but only a fraction of those seek help. Men are more likely to develop a gambling problem than women.
Harlan Vogel, a counselor with the Heartland Family Service Problem Gambling program, says it’s a social process, so it always starts out as fun.
“The struggle is when they begin to depend upon gambling as a way of escaping,” Harlan explains. “There’s a very thin line between it being fun and becoming an addiction. It starts to become an addiction when you get a big win, and then the activity begins to dictate how we use our time.”
Gamblers also get a “high” from a big win, and then they start to spend all the time chasing the next win.
Harlan says for many people, this kind of addiction is actually worse than a substance abuse addiction.
“Once a gambler starts to depend upon gambling, they will often begin to believe that even though gambling created the problem, it’s the only way to fix the problem.”
What are the signs of a gambling addiction?
One of the first signs to look for when you suspect someone has a gambling addiction is to examine what they do on a daily basis. This might include:
- Spending the majority of their time on gambling websites
- Buying a large number of lottery and scratch-off tickets
- Spending excessive amounts of time at casinos
- Suddenly not having enough money to pay bills or buy groceries
My loved one has a gambling addiction. How do I help them?
When gamblers are immersed in their addiction, they become very defensive. They are easily angered because they think someone is trying to take away the only thing they feel they have going for them.
“In many cases, a significant other doesn’t understand what they’re dealing with,” Harlan says. “Because of that, their husband or wife will turn the tables on them and blame them for their addiction.
Harlan notes that before having the conversation with your loved one, you should be prepared to have concrete examples of how they can get help.
Here are some ways you can have the conversation:
- Be clear and non-judgmental: I’ve been noticing changes in your behavior, and I’m worried about you.
- Be positive: Your involvement in our family is usually so good, and we miss you.
- Be prepared for denial or a hostile reaction: It must be uncomfortable to hear this. It’s difficult for me to bring it up, but I am concerned about you.
Don’t try to fix the problem yourself. Help is available for you and your loved one with the gambling problem. For more information, call the toll-free help line at (866) 322-1407.