What Problem Gambling is All About

Americans are inveterate gamblers. At last count, there were no less than 1,662 casinos, race tracks, gaming and betting facilities and other betting facilities spread across the United States. The ocean of cash raked in by the gambling industry, estimated by the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs at no less than $70 billion, means Americans now spend more on gambling than on spectator sports, music and attendance at leisure parks combined.

As per-capita expenditure on gambling exceeded $200, gambling addiction came to the forefront. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that a huge 2 to 3 percent of the population (or from 6 to 9 million Americans) have a gambling obsession.

But just what is problem gambling? How does a habitual gamer recognize when he has crossed the line to gambling addiction? Alternatively, how does a family recognize when one member needs support and intervention for his gaming habit?

In general, problem gambling is behavior that upsets or derails one or another aspect of life: work, family life, psychological well-being, an established regimen of physical activity or sports, social contact. At the extreme, it can degenerate to pathological or compulsive gambling, defined as a "progressive addiction, overriding preoccupation with gambling, the urge to bet bigger bankrolls more often in an attempt to "chase losses".

In common with other types of addicts, many problem gamblers are rational enough to see the damage caused by their behavior but they are unable to stop. Strangely enough, they are not weak-willed. Addiction counselors have encountered problem gamblers who are described by family and colleagues as decisive and planful in other areas of their lives.

One will also observe the classic symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to stop: restlessness, irritability, inability to eat or sleep.

The general public understands well enough that problem gambling can lead to bankruptcy and the attendant legal problems. Most "leisure gamers" starting to gamble heavily are not aware, however, that families have been broken and careers lost because of compulsive gambling. So despondent have some problem gamblers become that they attempted suicide.

By way of dispelling certain misconceptions, it should be pointed out that problem gambling is not purely monetary. Pay off a problem gambler's accumulated debts and he will start all over again. And the extent of addiction does not correlate with the amount of money owed. Owing a thousand dollars may seem puny to most but it is the disruption of personal or household budgets, as well as the attempts at cover-up and deception that confirm a status as problem gambler.

Then again, why do the other 82% of the population enjoy online betting or the sights and sounds of casinos but leave it all behind the following day? Clinical psychologists suggest that uncontrolled gambling could be due to some genetic predisposition, lack of fortitude for coping with day-to-day stress, deficient upbringing and ultra-permissive attitudes about gambling.

For now, we have shown that gambling addiction exists. Problem gambling is typified by obsessive behavior and especially by the inability to stop the damage that is done to career, finances, family life, social milieu, and other forms of leisure.