Gambling addiction - do you have a problem?

Many of us associate addiction with drugs and alcohol but problem gambling can be equally as destructive and the natural high experienced by gamblers can easily and quickly become addictive.

gambling addiction

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The NHS estimates that as many as 250,000 people in the UK may have a gambling problem and, with the number of online gambling sites on the rise and many experiencing financial pressures, it's possible that figure could be on the rise.

If you think you have a problem, or are worried about someone you know, here are the tell-tale signs that what started out as a flutter has turned into something much more serious.

How do I know if I have a problem?
The effects of gambling (ie. the thrill or taking a risk and sometimes winning) induce a natural high not dissimilar to some drugs. And just as with drugs or alcohol, gamblers frequently find themselves placing ever bigger bets in a bid to reproduce that feeling of adrenaline.

Signs that it's turned into an addiction are easily missed by family members as gamblers will often try to conceal the extent of their problem and, much like alcoholics, are often in denial.

However, if you or someone you know is spending more and more time gambling, is betting larger amounts in a bid to recoup losses, and lying to friends and family about how much they have spent, there's a good chance the situation is out of control.

A loss of interest in other hobbies or a previously healthy social life may also be a warning while some will begin 'borrowing' or stealing money in order to fuel their habit.

Some may even experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pains and irritability, if unable to get their fix.

What are the risks?
The obvious downside is that most gambling addicts end up heavily in debt. The rapidly increasing size of bets means many are simply playing catch-up and debt can quickly spiral out of control, affecting not just the gambler but their family too. Compulsive gamblers risk their relationships and their jobs as the habit takes over and, when the funds run dry, some turn to crime.

According to the NHS there is also a link between gambling and depression - the rate of depression and attempted suicide by gambling addicts is approximately double that of the national average. As many as 50 per cent of compulsive gamblers also have issues with alcohol addiction.

What can I do?
As with most addictions, the first step to kicking the habit is admitting that it's a problem in the first place. If you think you have a problem it is advisable to seek help and there are a number of support groups available, including GamCare and Gamblers Anonymous.

The former operates a helpline, open seven days a week from 8am to midnight, which offers support from a trained advisor, while counselling and advice is also available online.

Gamblers Anonymous meanwhile, run meetings across the country, as well as online forums and live chat where you can speak to others with a similar problem.

If you are over 16 and live in England or Wales, you may also contact the specialist CNWL National Problem Gambling Clinic, run by the NHS where counselling and treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (which has shown excellent results) is available.

Advice on how to get out of debt should also be sought as this can ease some of the stress.

There may, of course, be other reasons for the development of the addiction, including depression, anxiety or stress and, once these have been explored, medication or one-to-one counselling may help to combat the underlying problems.

Have you suffered with a gambling problem? How did you kick the habit? Leave your comments below...