What is problem gambling?
Problem gambling is identified as an addictive disorder in which an individual has the urge to continuously gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. Gambling is generally identified as a problem when it gets in the way of work, relationships, mental and physical health, finances and other daily activities. Some people who gamble excessively do not connect their life problems to their gambling while others have had several unsuccessful attempts at trying to stop.
Signs that you may have a problem:
- Gambling with increasing amounts of money to achieve the same excitement.
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling. Becoming restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
- Persistent thoughts about gambling, including past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture or ways to get money with which to gamble.
- Lying and cheating others to conceal the extent of involvement in gambling.
- Frequent gambling when feeling distressed (e.g. helpless, guilty, stressed, down).
- Gambling further in an attempt to make back lost money (chasing losses).
- Neglecting professional and/or personal responsibilities because of gambling.
- Relying on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.
Why do some people develop a gambling problem?
Most people gamble for fun with the hope to win, but do not expect to win. People who become problem gamblers may start out this way, but then often develop reasons for gambling (chasing loses, recover from financial hardship, to experience the excitement that comes from winning) and gamble with the expectation of ‘winning big’. Research suggests that there are a number of factors that may make a person more vulnerable to experiencing a problem with gambling:
- Winning big early on in his/her gambling history
- Money problems
- Recent loss or change, such as relationship problems, divorce, job loss, retirement or the death of a loved one.
- Gambling to cope with health concern and/or physical pain
- Often feeling lonely
- Few interests and hobbies, or feeling as though life lacks direction
- Often feeling bored, taking risks or acting without thinking
- Using gambling, or alcohol or other drugs, to cope with bad feelings or events
- Often feeling depressed or anxious
- Present and past problems with alcohol or other drugs, gambling or overspending
- Thinking there is a system or a way of gambling that increases the odds of winning.
How do pokies work?
Research shows that problem gamblers often hold faulty beliefs in relation to their understanding of the odds of and believe that they can increase their chances of winning through different strategies. It is proposed that because of this, individuals overestimate the extent to which they can predict and influence outcomes, and a high expectation of success than the realistic odds of actually winning on a poker machine. In reality, however, there is no skill involved in playing poker machines. These machines work similar to a lottery and there is nothing that can be done to increase one’s chances of winning. Below is a description of what actually happens when you press the button on a poker machine:
- You press the button
- The computer spins the reels – e.g. columns of symbols position one after another.
- Each reel has a different number of symbols and the symbols are in different positions on each reel.
- The computer picks the number corresponding to a symbol at random from all possible numbers for reel 1.
- The computer stops reel 1 at the number corresponding to the symbol, which was randomly selected.
- It picks a number corresponding to a symbol at random from all possible numbers for reel 2.
- The computer stops reel 2 at the number on the ball it pulled out of the bucket.
- It repeats this process for reels 3, 4 and 5 using separate number generators for each reel.
- Once all reels stop, the computer works out if there are any wins on the lines you have gambled on.
- If there are wins, it pays them otherwise you lose and the computer waits for you to press the button again. The random number generator is reset for the next game.
What treatment is available for gambling?
Depending on an individual’s needs, treatment for gambling addiction usually involves a combination of cognitive and behavioural strategies. Below is an explanation of these different strategies:
Thought challenging: Irrational thoughts or beliefs are identified that maintain the desire to gamble or promote gambling behaviours. One such thought could be, “If I keep playing, my chances of winning will increase”. These beliefs are evaluated against facts on the actual chances of winning or recouping losses through further gambling.
Behavioural strategies: These strategies aim to reduce arousal associated with reinforcements and motivations in the environment that maintain gambling behaviours, such as excitement.
Managing difficult feelings: Gambling can play a role in helping the person to manage or avoid strong uncomfortable feelings, such as boredom, low mood, anxiety, guilt, and stress. Therapy therefore also teaches alternative strategies to manage these emotions.
Associated issues: Many problem gamblers also have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and substance use issues that may need to be addressed in therapy and could be either adding to or maintaining their gambling problem.
What can family members do to help?
Problem gambling not only affects the gambler, it also affects family and friends. Family members can feel ashamed, hurt, afraid, frustrated angry, confused and distrustful and often suffer their own physical and mental health issues as a result.
It is not uncommon for family members and friends of problem gamblers to seek therapy to get help with managing their own feelings and behaviours, discuss the effects of gambling on the family, and understand what they can do to help the problem gambler.
Unfortunately you cannot force a person to stop gambling, the person must be motivated to change. However, family members can play a powerful role in encouraging change and are often the driving force behind problem gamblers seeking help.
We have a clinical psychologist, Milka Farrugia, who is experienced in providing treatment for gambling. If you would like to find out more about our treatment for gambling, or to book an appointment with Milka, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.