5 signs that gambling is becoming a problem

Spot the signs, and address gambling addiction before it gets out of hand

The gambling industry in the UK is colossal, with The Gambling Commission’s most recent published statistics showing that gambling companies had a total gross yield of £5.9 billion between April and September 2020.

The feeling of winning is pleasurable and addictive, something that many people risk falling victim to. And while the vast majority are able to remain in control of their gambling, for others it becomes increasingly difficult to know when to stop.

There’s a lot of help available for gambling addiction, but the first step is to identify that there may be a problem. Here, we explore five signs that gambling habits are potentially problematic.

1. Gambling more than you can afford to lose

In a healthy relationship with gambling, you should be able to understand what you can afford to lose if things don’t go your way.

For example, when visiting a casino, it may be acceptable for you to lose £20 – with the knowledge that if you lose that £20, you will stop or leave.

This allows you to control the amount you are at risk of losing. If you don’t set limits, it’s easy to lose track of how much money you have actually spent. Having fun can quickly turn to regret if you end up losing the money you need to cover the other costs in your life.

2. Chasing losses

The act of ‘chasing losses’ is to gamble more as a direct result of a loss. When one feels the need to avenge that loss with a win, it is a big sign that the relationship with gambling has turned sour.

Using the previous casino example, after losing the £20 which you set as your limit, it may be tempting to bet more money in order to win back your £20. This can be a slippery slope, and can quickly spiral out of control.

Problem gamblers often fall into ‘mind traps’ – these are thoughts that distort our view on something. For example, feeling as though you are ‘due a win’, which can encourage you to bet again. This distracts from the fact that the chances of winning are always exactly the same as they were before.

3. Increasing stakes

One reason why gambling is so popular around the world is simply that winning feels good. Winning triggers an emotional response that can be very addictive. This positive feeling often overrides the negative feeling that is triggered after losing. As Ian Robertson wrote in his book The Winner Effect, “Winning increases testosterone which, in turn, increases the chemical messenger dopamine, and that dopamine hits the reward network in the brain, which makes us feel better.”

Sometimes, to increase the positive feeling of winning, one may raise the stakes. If small wins aren’t cutting it, doubling the stakes may boost your interest.

However, chasing this positive emotional reaction, of course, comes with a much higher risk – and again forms a slippery slope, whereby the amount being gambled is forever increasing.

4. Betting attitude

Another key downfall of many gamblers, particularly those who bet on sports, is that they feel they can beat the bookmakers due to their knowledge of the sport. It is easy to think that, if you know a lot about football, it’s possible to predict what will happen. But what makes sport thrilling is that anything can happen.

The odds are, quite literally, always stacked against you. No amount of studying can predict a horse falling at the first fence, or a red card in the first minute.

It’s important to know that all bets rely on luck, and even those with the greatest knowledge of a sport often get it wrong.

5. Hiding the fact that you’re gambling

It may be simply gambling when nobody is around, or it may be that you’ll go to the toilet or to get a drink, and while doing so, place a bet. But once you feel the need to gamble secretly, you’re likely to be already in a position where, deep down, you know that gambling is a problem. It is often to avoid scrutiny, whereas scrutiny is what will save a person from developing a deeper problem.

To connect with a counsellor, or learn more about managing a gambling addiction, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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