What Every UK Resident Should Know About Compulsive Gambling
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What Every UK Resident Should Know About Compulsive Gambling

What Every UK Resident Should Know About Compulsive Gambling

Compulsive gambling is a serious mental disorder; it wreaks havoc not only on the life of the compulsive gambler, but also on their friends, family, and coworkers. Also known as a gambling disorder or gambling addiction, it manifests as an uncontrollable desire to gamble. This is despite the destructive toll it takes on the gambler, and everyone around them.

Gambling is the willingness to put something you value at risk, hoping to win something of even more value. In the same way as drugs and alcohol, gambling stimulates the brain's reward system, leading to addiction. In fact, most compulsive gamblers also have a substance abuse problem. Unfortunately, some people are genetically prone to addictive behavior.

Someone who constantly gambles despite losses, hides their behavior, drains their savings, and racks up debt, is a compulsive gambler. Those with a gambling addiction can even turn to stealing and committing fraud  to support their addiction. To put it simply, compulsive gambling is a problem that often destroys lives. While compulsive gambling treatment can be difficult, many compulsive gamblers have turned their lives around with professional treatment.


Signs Someone is a Compulsive Gambler

If you're reading this, you suspect you, or someone you know, has a gambling problem. The signs of a compulsive gambling disorder include:

  • Thinking about gambling constantly. This can manifest as scheming ways to get more gambling money. This can also involve planning trips to casinos and racetracks.
  • The need to gamble more often and with more money, to get the same feeling of exhilaration.
  • Unsuccessfully trying to cut back, control, or stop gambling.
  • Irritable and restless feelings when trying to avoid gambling.
  • Gambling to feel like a winner, and escape your problems.
  • Attempt to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, helplessness, or guilt.
  • Trying to win back money lost by gambling more often.
  • Lying to family, friends, and coworkers to hide the level of your gambling
  • Losing or jeopardizing relationships, your job, work opportunities, or school due to your gambling.
  • Stealing or committing fraud for gambling money.
  • Asking friends and family for money to help cover your bills, due to losing money.

Casual gamblers stop when they lose, and also set a loss limit. However, someone with a compulsive gambling disorder feels compelled to keep gambling to recover their losses. This pattern increasingly becomes more and more destructive over time.

A few people who suffer from a compulsive gambling disorder may go into remission occasionally; remission is when they successfully cut back or stop gambling for a period of time. Unfortunately, without treatment, they eventually start gambling again.

Are you a compulsive gambler? Or, does someone close to you have a gambling problem? If the answer is yes, it might be time for professional help.


When to Seek Professional Help

If friends, family members, or coworkers have expressed concern about your gambling, it's time to listen to them. Unfortunately, denial is nearly always a component of any compulsive or addictive disorder. While it's difficult to admit that you have a problem, doing so will be the beginning of a happier and more fulfilling life.

If the above list of symptoms of compulsive gambling sounds like you, seek professional help. There's evidence that addictions, including gambling, can be resolved with cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Another method for treating addictive behavior is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This involves learning to recognize your negative thoughts and finding healthy ways to overcome feelings of defeat. You possess the power of rational thinking, and can apply it to the stressors of external situations.

Contingency Management can help a variety of addictions by reinforcing positive behavior with tangible rewards. For example, if you resist gambling for a week, reward yourself with a fun, non-gambling outing with your friends.

Twelve-step programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous UK, can be useful. This form of therapy involves consistently attending group meetings. This type of therapy can appeal to someone who also craves the social aspects of gambling

Fortunately, if you are a resident of England or Wales, are at least 16 years old, and have a complex gambling problem, you can apply to the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic.

Friends and family affected by someone else's gambling can also get support at GamCare and GamAnon.


What Causes a Gambling Addiction?

The exact cause of compulsive gambling, like other forms of addiction, is not completely understood. Like many mental health problems, a gambling addiction can develop from a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental influences.

However, a number of risk factors have been identified. While most people who indulge in an occasional poker game won't develop into a problem gambler, there are predisposing factors:

  • Mental health disorders. Compulsive gamblers often have personality disorders and substance abuse issues. Other mental health issues include obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
  • A person's age. Young adults and middle-aged people are more prone to compulsive gambling. Childhood and adolescent gambling increase the risk. But, compulsive gambling in older adults can also be problematic.
  • Gender. Men are more susceptible to compulsive gambling than women. However, women usually start gambling later in life and sometimes become compulsive more quickly. However, gambling patterns between the genders are becoming more similar.
  • Influence of family and friends. If family and friends are compulsive gamblers, the greater the chance others close to them will develop a gambling problem.
  • Drugs and medications used to treat Restless Legs Syndrome and Parkinson's disease. These drugs are dopamine agonists, and a rare side effect is the development of compulsive behaviors. This includes gambling.
  • Certain personality traits. A highly competitive, Type A personalities are prone to gambling, as are workaholics. Restless, impulsive, and easily bored people are also susceptible to compulsive gambling.


Complications Associated with Problem Gambling

Compulsive gambling can have long-lasting and devastating consequences not only for your life, but also for the people around you. As a gambling problem spirals out of control, it sucks your normal, healthy life into a dark abyss. 

First of all, your relationships will suffer; friends, family, your spouse and coworkers will all be negatively affected. You may become annoyed as they confront you about your gambling, and you'll deny you have a problem. 

Financial problems also come with compulsive gambling, and also negatively affect your relationships. Family and friends will quickly tire of loaning you money, and your spouse may become frantic over unpaid bills. As the unpaid bills pile up, bankruptcy could become inevitable. 

If you resort to crime to fund your gambling, you could eventually end up in prison. Your crimes may seem inconsequential, such as embezzling just a little money from your employer. Or, shoplifting and reselling the goods. 

If you're constantly preoccupied with gambling, inevitably your work performance will suffer. This could lead to losing your job, and even becoming unemployable. 

Spending all of your free time gambling means you're not exercising. It can also put you into environments where alcohol is in abundance. This will have an effect on your general health. 

As the negative consequences of your gambling habit build up, you could begin to have suicidal thoughts. If you don't get help, suicide might seem like the only way out of your cycle of addiction.


Preventing a Gambling Problem

While there is no surefire way to prevent a gambling problem, if you have compulsive gambling risk factors, simply avoid gambling. Also, avoid hanging out with people who gamble and places like casinos, racetracks, and sports pubs. The best way to prevent a gambling problem is to not start gambling in the first place.

If you have a family history of compulsive gambling, monitor your child's gaming activities closely; many modern video games have gambling elements built-in. If your child becomes obsessed with gaming, they could be at risk for compulsive gambling. If you see the signs in your child, educational programs and groups may be helpful.

Teens and young adults are especially prone to all kinds of addiction, from substance abuse to gambling. This is due to their inexperience with the world and peer pressure, as well as genetics and the home environment. Kids want to fit in, and if the other kids are involved in gambling, they might get involved too.

Also, From the ages of 13 to around 25, the brain undergoes many changes. During the teen years through young adulthood, the neural connections and brain cells that are least used die off. Likewise, the ones that are used the most grow stronger. That means, any addictive behaviors that begin during these years can become hardwired, and develop into a lifelong problem.

The fact is, gambling can give some people a high similar to drug use, since it stimulates the same neurotransmitters.

Finally, seek treatment as soon as you realize gambling has become a problem, for you or a family member. Early treatment is key to successfully overcoming any type of addiction.


Formal Diagnosis of a Compulsive Gambling Disorder

If you think that your gambling is compulsive, first, discuss it with your doctor. They may be able to refer you for an evaluation. Alternatively, you could seek out an independent mental health professional.

To diagnose your gambling problem, your doctor or therapist will:

  • Ask questions about your gambling habits. They may ask when and where you like to gamble. Also, they may ask for permission to talk over your problem with your family and friends. Remember, confidentiality laws prevent them from revealing your personal information to anyone without your consent.
  • Review your medications. Certain drugs have a rare side effect resulting in compulsive behavior. That includes gambling. Also, a physical examination could reveal health problems that can be associated with compulsive gambling.
  • Perform a psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation includes questions about your thoughts, symptoms, feelings, and behaviors related to gambling. Depending on your symptoms, they may also perform an evaluation for related mental health disorders.
  • Use the DSM-5. The DSM-5, or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, lists the criteria for diagnosing all mental disorders, including gambling disorder.


Treating a Gambling Disorder

Treatment of a compulsive gambling disorder can be difficult. In part, that's due to many people having a difficult time admitting they have a gambling problem. But, a big part of successful treatment is admitting that you're a compulsive gambler.

If your employer or your family insists that you seek therapy, you may feel betrayed and resentful, and resist treatment. But keep in mind, treatment can help heal damaged relationships. Moreover, it can help you get your finances under control. But most importantly, it can help you regain your self-respect and take back control over your life.

Compulsive gambling treatment may include the following:

Therapy. Cognitive and behavioral therapy can be beneficial. Cognitive therapy places an emphasis on identifying irrational, unhealthy, and negative beliefs. Then, these are systematically replaced with positive and healthy beliefs. Behavior therapy systematically exposes you to the behavior you want to get rid of, under supervision. During exposure, you are taught skills to reduce the compulsion to gamble. Also, family therapy can be helpful if your family members have been negatively affected, or if compulsive gambling runs in the family.

Medications. Mood stabilizing drugs and antidepressants may help underlying mental health problems that contribute to compulsive gambling. Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and ADHD can all play a role in compulsive behaviors. Some antidepressants may even be effective in reducing the urge to gamble. Also, medications used to treat substance abuse, known as narcotic antagonists, may help with compulsive gambling.

Self-help groups. Many people find that talking with other problem gamblers is helpful. While your friends, family, and coworkers find your problem difficult to understand, other compulsive gamblers know exactly what you're going through. Ask your therapist or health care provider for information on self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous.


Develop a Comprehensive Treatment Plan

Mental and behavioral health professionals use treatment plans to efficiently treat addiction. Without a treatment plan, it's hard to track a person's progress. Also, it's a good way to organize and record an individual's care.

Every compulsive gambler needs an individualized treatment plan. When your therapist creates a comprehensive treatment plan for you, it acts as a roadmap to help you heal. While not all mental health professionals work with treatment plans, it’s good for both you and your therapist. Mental health treatment plans are important, making a big difference in your progress.

A detailed treatment plan usually includes the following information:

  • Personal information, demographics, and psychological history
  • A mental health diagnosis
  • Top-priority goals
  • Important objectives
  • A timeline for treatment
  • Tracking progress

Compulsive gambling treatment can also involve an inpatient program, outpatient program, or a residential treatment program. It all depends on what you need and your resources. Also, treatment for other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, or any other mental disorder may need to be treated. Work together with your treatment provider on a comprehensive plan to overcome your compulsive gambling.

Treatment plans give the addict structure in which to work. Research indicates that structure and maintaining focus is important to achieve a positive outcome.

A treatment plan can help with goal-setting helping you to make progress faster.:

  • Treatment plans can help you achieve more
  • Stay motivated
  • Boost self-confidence
  • Feel satisfied with your progress
  • Improve your concentration
  • Avoid confusion about what you are doing
  • Set priorities
  • Avoid feeling overwhelmed

Work with your mental health professional to come up with a treatment plan that's right for you.


Preventing a Relapse

Despite treatment, many people go back to gambling. This is especially true if you hang around with people who gamble or hang out in gambling environments. Unfortunately, preventing relapse may mean avoiding your old friends and the places where you used to socialize.

Some common things that can trigger a relapse include:

  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Certain places and people
  • Falling back on old habits

First of all, know your triggers. These can be internal, such as feelings of anger, anxiety, stress, irritability, and low self-esteem. Triggers can also be or external, such as people, places, or things. External triggers remind you of your gambling life. Making a list of all of your triggers is a good way to remain aware, and reduce the chance of relapse.

Also, make a list of people you can call when you need help. When the urge to gamble hits you, it can be hard to manage, especially at first. Having someone to talk to can help you overcome the urge, and remind you why you don't want to gamble. Keep that list on your cell phone, so you can quickly call a helpful person.

One important thing you'll need to do is redefine your idea of fun. Often, when people in recovery come under stress, they look back fondly at the “good old days.” Face it, at first, your addiction was fun. However, that sort of fun leads down a dark path. It's important to find healthier ways to have fun.

If you feel the urge to start gambling again, contact your 12-step sponsor right away, and make an appointment to see your mental health professional. It's important to stop a relapse before you start gambling again.


Coping and Finding Support for Your Gambling Problem

Any addiction problem can leave a person feeling alone and isolated. Unfortunately, the people closest to you may not understand. Even worse, they may harbor resentment towards you; sadly, your gambling problem not only hurts you, but everyone around you. The family members of compulsive gamblers can also benefit from counseling or a support group.

These coping skills can help you maintain focus, and resist the urge to gamble:

  • Always remain focused on your top goal, which is, not to gamble.
  • Remind yourself gambling in any way is too risky. Typically, one bet leads to more.
  • Allow yourself to ask for help. The fact is, your willpower may not be enough to overcome the gambling urge. Ask your friends and family to help keep you on track with your treatment plan.
  • Know your triggers and avoid them.

Actively participating in self-help groups can help a compulsive gambler cope. You'll feel you're not alone, and you'll learn how other gamblers have recovered. You may also learn new coping skills. Finally, you'll have a safe, nonjudgmental place to go, where you won't be judged.


Getting Ready for your Therapy Appointment

Now that you've made the decision to seek help for your gambling problem, it's time for your first appointment. However, it's best to be prepared. Obviously, this can be stressful and even embarrassing, so you don't want to forget anything.

Before you arrive for your appointment make a list of:

  • All the emotions you're experiencing, even the ones that seem unrelated to your gambling.
  • What triggers your gambling. Also, write down what happens when you try to resist the urge to gamble.
  • What effect has your gambling had on your life.
  • Personal information, including any recent life changes and stressors.
  • Your medications, including any vitamins, supplements, and herbs that you're using, including the doses.
  • Note any other physical or mental health disorders and your treatment.
  • Write down the questions you want to ask your therapist to make the most of your appointment time.


Questions for your therapist include:

  • What is the best therapy for my compulsive gambling?
  • What are the other therapies that you can suggest?
  • Should I join a 12-step group?
  • Will my insurance cover therapy?
  • Should I get inpatient or outpatient treatment?
  • Are there any booklets or brochures?
  • Do you recommend any websites?

That's just a shortlist of questions, but don't hesitate to ask other pertinent questions during your appointment.


What Your Therapist Might Ask You

Your therapist will ask a lot of in depth questions to understand you and your problem, so be ready to respond truthfully. Make the time to go over anything you want to delve into. Your therapist might ask:

  • When did you first start gambling?
  • How often do you gamble?
  • Are the people in your life troubled by your gambling?
  • In what way has gambling negatively affected you?
  • Have you attempted to stop gambling on your own? What happened?
  • Typically, how much money do you bet?
  • Have you ever sought therapy before for your gambling problem?
  • Are you ready now to accept treatment for your gambling problem?

You should feel comfortable with the therapist, but also, expect to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Change isn't easy, and at times, you'll feel put on the spot. 

However, if after a few sessions, you really feel that the therapist isn't the right one for you, it's OK to go elsewhere. But don't give up! Just because your first therapist isn't working out, doesn't mean a different therapist can't help you turn your life around. 

Undoing an addiction isn't easy or comfortable, and making like changes through therapy is a process that takes time. So stick with it for as long as it takes to free yourself from compulsive gambling.


Help Resources for Problem Gamblers in the UK

There are many resources available to compulsive gamblers in the UK, including the National Gambling Helpline at 0808 8020 133. It's free of charge, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust provides treatment to compulsive gamblers over the age of 16 in England and Wales. The Foundation Trust can evaluate a problem gambler's needs, as well as provide help to their family members. The NHS offers problem gamblers and their families and partners evidence-based treatments. The Foundation Trust also offers services to assist with employment, finances, as well as relationship and social problems. Tel: 020 7534 6699 / 6687 .

Gambler's Anonymous is a fellowship of all kinds of people, working together to tackle their gambling problems. The groups help one another overcome compulsive gambling addiction. National helpline number: 02073 843040 .

GamCare is a registered charity, GamCare is a leading authority on problem gambling. Taking a non-judgmental approach, the charity can give practical advice concerning the social impact gambling has on your life. National helpline number: 0808 8020133 .

Gam-Anon Provides support to friends and family affected by a problem gambler.

Gordon Moody Association Provides severely addicted gamblers with residential treatment, as well as internet counseling and outreach services. Tel: 01384 241292 .

There is no reason not to get help with your compulsive gambling. It not only negatively affects your life, but the lives of those around you. From your partner, parents, children, and even your coworkers, compulsive gambling has devastating consequences. It can drain your bank account, destroy relationships, and leave you unemployed and homeless.

Before gambling destroys your life, get help.

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