June 12 , 2007
Problem Gambling: When Does it Cross the Line
David Prescott, Ph.D.
Definition of Problem Gambling: Surveys suggest that over 70% of Americans gamble at least once in any given year. Not surprisingly, for many people gambling is something to do occasionally for recreation or enjoyment. However, about 3 million American adults are estimated to have a significant problem with gambling. Some of these people actually meet criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder, called pathological gambling. For other people, even though they do not qualify for a formal diagnosis, problem gambling leads to depression, difficulties with their job, strain on family, and legal problems.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You Think You Have a Problem: Problem gambling has been called a “hidden addiction.” Often, the problem is not evident until a person’s life has become seriously disrupted, and financial losses have become significant. If you, or someone you know, is wondering if they have a gambling problem, some questions to ask include:
Have you often gambled longer than you have planned?
Have you often gambled until your last dollar is gone?
Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid?
Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling?
Have you borrowed money or considered breaking the law to finance your gambling?
Answering yes to one or more of these questions indicates that you may need to seek some professional assistance.
Problem Gambling is Often Associated with other Problems: Not only is gambling a problem in its own right, but people with problem gambling often have, or develop, other mental health and substance abuse problems. People who are pathological gamblers are at high risk for clinical depression, substance abuse disorders like alcoholism, and suicide. These conditions usually require professional evaluation and help.
Where to Turn for Help: People are often embarrassed that they have a gambling problem, or they may not see the full impact gambling has on their lives. Thus, if someone else suggests that they have a problem it is common for people to become defensive or angry. Don’t be surprised if it takes some time for a person with problem gambling to acknowledge its impact on their life. Problem gambling is often not identified in its early stages. The earlier people seek help, the less time it usually takes to make positive changes. A licensed mental health professional can help you determine how significant a problem gambling is for you, and whether other mental health or substance abuse problems exist. A small but growing number of self-help groups, like Gambler’s Anonymous, are beginning to develop.
Additional Resources Include:
National Council on Problem Gambling
National Hotline: 888-GA-HELPS