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Online Gambling Addiction: A Risky Bet

by Jeffrey Juergens ❘  

The Threat of Online Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a pretty common pastime in the US. In fact, 86 percent of Americans report having gambled at least once in their lives. Unfortunately for many, this popular activity can turn into a life-altering addiction.

Compulsive gambling, pathological gambling and gambling disorder are all different terms for gambling addiction. If you can’t control your gambling despite the fact that it’s causing harm, you likely have a gambling addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates 1.5 million Americans have had a gambling disorder.

Problem gambling is a milder condition in which your gambling causes harm, but you still have some control over your behavior. Problem gambling affects two to four times as many Americans as pathological gambling.

Gambling addiction is often a hidden problem—a problem that has become even easier to hide thanks to the rise of online gambling.

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Online Gambling Addiction

The internet makes gambling easily accessible, putting people at a higher risk for developing an online gambling addiction.

Online gambling is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as long as you have an internet capable device and internet access. You can gamble at home, at work or virtually anywhere on your mobile phone or tablet without anyone being the wiser. This makes it extremely easy to hide a gambling addiction from even your closest friends and family.

The consequences of online gambling addiction are similar to that of drug or alcohol addiction in that your finances, social relationships and even health can be negatively affected.

Online gambling addiction can lead to financial loss, isolation and poor health associated with time spent online and lack of sleep. Almost always, the consequences of gambling addiction begin to affect the addict’s family and friends, too. Online gambling addiction can cause a number of issues between the addict and their loved ones, including:

  • Money problems
  • Emotional issues
  • Health problems (usually stress-related)
  • Mental health problems (anxiety, depression)
  • Distrust
  • Physical and emotional abuse

As a relatively new issue that usually takes place behind closed doors, there hasn’t been a lot of research on internet gambling addiction to date. However, there is a need for further research given the serious consequences and risks associated with the condition, especially its effect on today’s youth.

Teens & Online Gambling

By providing nearly endless opportunities to gamble, the internet has changed the pace and face of gambling addiction. While adult men are still the most likely group to develop a gambling addiction, the number of teenagers who gamble is growing rapidly.

Age limits prevent teens from participating at traditional gambling establishments, but the lack of monitoring and control over who gambles on the internet makes it easy for teens to join the game. As long as they have an account that says they’re 21 and a credit card number for funds, they’re able to play.

Internet gambling provides youth with increased opportunities to gamble, which is particularly concerning because this generation is arguably the most technologically savvy of any generation in history.

- Renee Cunningham-Williams, addiction expert & Associate Professor at Washington University St. Louis

The teen brain is at risk for many mental disorders, as well as substance use disorders, because it’s still in the process of developing. This makes online gambling a serious danger for today’s youth.

Co-Occurring Gambling and Alcohol Use Disorders

Gambling and alcohol are two vices that often go hand in hand. They’re also vices that seem to simultaneously get out of hand for many people.

According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 73.2 percent of people diagnosed with pathological gambling also had an alcohol use disorder.

Gambling addiction and alcohol addiction can happen at the same time, also known as co-occurring disorders, or they can happen sequentially, which means in a particular order. Most commonly with sequential addiction, people who are recovering alcoholics develop a gambling addiction without realizing it. Their gambling addiction may then lead the person to begin drinking again, at which point they’ll be more likely to seek treatment.

Online gambling not only makes it easier to hide a gambling problem, it also makes it easier to hide a drinking problem. Because online gamblers often play from the comfort of their own home, their drinking also happens at home, allowing it to go unnoticed by most.

A recent study by Alcohol Concern, a UK-based charity, found that drinking and online gambling are commonly combined.

The widespread availability of cheap alcohol and the growth of gambling websites has meant that it’s never been easier to drink and gamble, day or night, and the potential for running into problems has increased as a consequence.

- Mark Leyshon, Senior Policy and Research Officer at Alcohol Concern Cymru (Wales)

Gambling Addiction Treatment is Successful

The financial problems associated with gambling addiction are usually what push people to get treatment, not the actual desire to quit gambling. According to SAMHSA, only about 10 percent of people with a gambling addiction seek treatment for the problem. However, methods of gambling addiction treatment have proven to be very successful.

Gambling addiction treatment helps people see their behaviors more clearly, as well as the effect their gambling has had on their life and the lives of their friends and family. It also teaches the addict how gambling addiction always leads to loss. These realizations provide the motivation to make lasting changes for sobriety.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, please contact a treatment provider today for help finding a treatment program.

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