Note from Marilyn Davis of Addict 2 Advocate: I’m always excited to bring another voice to From Addict 2 Advocate. Carl Towns discusses his struggles with gambling addiction and offers straightforward information, his experience with gambling, and some solutions.
Gambling is one of those attractions that are present in everyday life – the football pool at the office, betting on a presidential race, wagering a dollar on the weather, bingo at the senior citizen center. We might even get a scratch-off with our change from the convenience store, and most people turn a blind eye to these kinds of gambling.
However, the rewards for these seemingly innocuous chance games is what can fuel a gambling addiction.
Our brains have neural pathways; one of which is the brain’s reward system. This system involves electronic impulses that turn into pleasure, memory, and motivation. When a person engages in basic actions such as eating, sexual activity or even sleep; the reward system starts to work. The brain releases a chemical neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which is the one responsible for all the feelings of pleasure and euphoria one might experience upon engaging in certain activities. Experts used to think of addiction as dependency on a chemical; they now define it as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions.
This is the reason drugs have such an addictive power. These substances basically trick the brain into thinking it has engaged in a highly pleasurable activity and releases up to 10 times the normal dose of dopamine, sometimes even more.
Gambling, much like drug addiction has the same impact on the brain and its dopamine production/release, the difference is that no outside chemicals are working, but the brain starts to relate only gambling-like scenarios with pleasurable ones.
For me, it was just an occasional escapade because I had a couple extra bucks to blow or because I ‘happened’ to be vacationing in Las Vegas and gambling is what people do in Vegas, right? At first, I thought of this as harmless fun, until it wasn’t anymore. I didn’t get the same feelings from just occasionally going to the casinos and found that it was impossible to distance myself from the practice of gambling in any form.
Although I realize now what was happening to me, many people are unaware that gambling addiction causes the same outcomes as drug and alcohol addiction; it is a problem that affects people all across America and the world. If your gut is telling you that someone you know or love (or yourself) is engaging in gambling at the expense of other areas of their life, these facts may help you decide if there is a problem. As with a substance abuse problem, you may need to help your loved one, or yourself, find professional help.
1. Underestimating the Disease
One of the biggest problems is that often people treat don’t treat gambling addiction seriously. Many times I was told to “brush it off” or “snap out of it”. While those statements prompted my guilt, I was unable to stop gambling, so went to greater lengths to hide my gambling.
If someone approaches you telling you they are suffering from this, listen to them and support them, just like you would do if they were addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Gambling is not unlike chemical drugs; one taste can be enough to hook someone. The first time I set foot in a casino was on a cruise with my family when I was 17. I loved it and when I went back, I started looking for bets everywhere until I was able to work and I could play money.
If you go with young ones to a casino or any gambling site, such as a horse track; talk to them and have them understand that there are risks involved and they should not feel bad if they find it difficult to stop. Caution them that gambling addiction is real and that if they are struggling, even after one round of betting, whether they lose or win, is a good way to be proactive about gambling addiction.
2. How Gambling and Substance Compulsive Consumption are Very Similar
After an extended period of time of regular consumption of drugs or gambling, the reward system basically malfunctions, and three things occur as a result:
3. What Are You Doing and Where’s the Money Gone?
There are many symptoms related to gambling addiction, however, one word sums them up –spending. How much time are you or someone you know spending in casinos, online, buying scratch-offs and how much money is being spent there?
While the “spending” symptoms are the biggest ones to look out for, there are plenty more signs that can indicate if you or someone you know is falling or has fallen into a gambling addiction. When gambling is a secret, how much money is spent, or what activities you’re engaged in; those are huge red flag warnings. Do any of the following sound familiar?
- Breaking even will become the goal in the face of big losses (even though it probably won’t happen).
- Gambling becomes a priority: Planning how to earn more money to gamble, how to take advantage of the games; gambling, probabilities, teams, machines, etc. are all the person can talk about, normal events (like social gatherings) are forgotten in order to go gamble.
- Gambling becomes an exit to relieve stress or suppress feelings of anxiety and even loneliness.
- Having the need to gamble increasing quantities of money, if the next bet is not bigger, then it’s not exciting.
- No matter how much the person works or how much they (or you) earn, it will always be an evolving financial loss situation due to constant gambling.
- Personal relationships, such as marriage, children, family or even close friends are put in serious jeopardy because of gambling, professional life will be affected too.
- There are several (failed) attempts to cut down the gambling.
- When their gambling gets cut down unexpectedly bad temper or irritability start to show.
When I finally realized I had a problem, I tried to stop gambling on my own. I decided that isolation would work. I went to my family’s cabin (which is in the middle of nowhere, in Iowa) to get away from all the temptation.
I always thought that abstinence syndrome or withdrawals only applied to drugs or alcohol, but in that cabin, I found out it applies to gambling too. I started experiencing unpleasant mental and physical distress, insomnia, anxiety, and even physical pain. A pathological gambler would have the need to be constantly aiming higher, making riskier bets to achieve the same thrill, and high, so when I denied myself all that, I went into withdrawal.
It was a hard path, and if you or a loved one are demonstrating signs of a gambling addiction, it’s very important that you understand it’s not a moral failure or a bad habit, but a compulsion and brain disorder. In order to be treated properly professional help must be sought, if you know of someone suffering from gambling addiction or if you are suffering it yourself, please seek help.
5. Help is Available
Remember that recovering from such disorder is something possible even for people suffering the worst of it. A pathological gambler can make his or her way back to sanity and stability in their life. Resources for gambling addiction are available through local mental health agencies or here are some online resources and books for you to see if you can identify with a gambling addiction and then find help.
The National Problem Gambling Hotline
Gambling Help Online
A great book on gambling and the price one woman and those who knew her had to pay is by Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Addicted to Dimes (Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat)
Regardless of whether you find help locally or online, just know that gambling addiction will not improve on its own. However daunting that sounds, I know the pitfalls of gambling addiction and the peace and of recovery. I hope you find them, too.
Biography: Carl Towns
I’m Carl Towns a 28-year-old wannabe writer; I am also a recovering addict on the path of self-discovery. My goal is to learn as many things as possible and to seize every single moment I live, pretty much trying to make up for all that I missed in the years I was lost in drugs and alcohol and gambling. I’m in love with tech, cars and pretty much anything that can be found online.
Biography: Marilyn L. Davis
A recovery curriculum author with 27 years of abstinence-based recovery, Marilyn advocates for and writes to the addicted population.
She opened and ran an award-winning women’s recovery home from 1990-2011, creating a recovery curriculum, Therapeutic Integrated Education Recovery System, which breaks addiction down into the variables and then offers time-tested exercises for healing, relapse prevention, and dealing with codependency and self-defeating behaviors.
She is the Assistant Editor at Two Drops of Ink, where she shares her gifts as a communicator, encouraging other writers to use their creativity to share their talents through writing. She believes in the power of words and knows that how something is said is just as important as what is said.
From Addict 2 Advocate explores addiction, recovery, and codependency with the same attention; write, so people relate and heal, and become the best person they can be.
Marilyn Davis Community Service Learning Award, Brenau University, 2008: ongoing award for individuals in mental health, wellness and recovery.
Liberty Bell Award, Northeastern Judicial Circuit, 2010: given to non-attorneys for their contribution to the criminal justice system and their communities.
**Presented By Recovery Starts Here! ~ Author/Columnist, Catherine Lyon**