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Previous: How to treat my gambling addiction and where could I find help?

Is there any way to stop myself from becoming a problem gambler?

Most cases of problem gambling evolve slowly, and there are several ways that people can identify whether or not their gambling is becoming harmful. Taking action as soon as problematic behaviour is identified can prevent devastating effects on a person’s life, as well as the lives of the people around them.

Monitoring spending

One of the first indicators of an emerging gambling problem is an increasing amount of money spent on gambling. Like most addictions, compulsive gambling starts with only small amounts, but the addict begins to require more in order to feel the same rush from the action.

However, it’s important to make a distinction between problematic and unproblematic increases. Normal recreational gamblers may start spending more money on gambling if their financial situation improves, if they prefer it to a different activity, or for special occasions. Increased spending is more likely to be an indicator of a problem if it begins to tighten a person’s finances, interfere with budgeting decisions, or if the person’s stakes are high enough to cause them stress or anxiety.

If a person finds that they are spending more money on gambling than they would like to, they should first come up with a reasonable budget for gambling expenditures. If they gamble online, they should also consider using the self-limiting options available at many casinos to set restrictions on deposits or wagers in a given period. If these measures still do not prevent the person from gambling in excess, they should seek help for problem gambling and self-exclude from gambling establishments.

Keeping track of time

A problem gambler usually spends significantly more time at a casino or other gambling establishment than is healthy. This is similar to the money issue in that it is progressive: at first, problem gamblers do not typically gamble any longer than recreational gamblers, but as the addiction to the action heightens, so does the time they spend gambling.

A person can still be a recreational gambler even when they begin to spend more time gambling as long as it does not affect their quality of life. It’s more likely to be a problem when the person begins to spend more time than they originally budgeted, or their gambling makes it difficult to keep obligations with work, family, or friends.

If a person finds that gambling is taking up an unreasonable amount of their time, they should consider taking a break to re-evaluate whether or not gambling is a wise decision. Both land-based and online casinos usually offer some form of temporary exclusion to make this easier. Afterwards, if the person continues to gamble for excessive periods of time, they are almost certainly a problem gambler and should seek help for the addictive behaviour immediately.

Being mindful of mental health

Problem gambling correlates strongly with mood disorders and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Depression comes in many forms, but it typically results in a loss of interest in activities a person once found enjoyable, chronic sadness, and a reduction in overall quality of life by making basic tasks difficult. Anxiety causes a person to feel panicked or out of control, often with sporadic physical symptoms like shortness of breath, restlessness, or hot flashes.

If a person feels that their gambling is a cause or symptom of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, they should stop gambling and seek treatment for the underlying issue from a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional. Treatment options include medication and talk therapy. The person will likely be advised to stop gambling indefinitely to ensure that the condition can be kept under control.

Maintaining relationships with friends and family

Problem gambling often strains a person’s personal relationships. This usually happens from a culmination of factors like secrecy about time and money spent gambling, foregoing obligations, and choosing to gamble instead of spend time with loved ones. Many problem gamblers do not even realise the extent of their problem until someone close to them comments on it.

To prevent gambling from interfering with relationships, a person should always remember that it is a recreational activity and should be done in moderation. Anyone who is concerned about their gambling should consider taking a break for a while and doing another activity with friends or family. If the person decides to continue gambling, making it a social activity may help.

However, if the person feels that they are still unable to gamble and keep their relationships intact, they have become a problem gambler. The sooner the person opens up to their loved ones, stops gambling, and seeks treatment for their gambling disorder, the faster they will be able to repair their relationships.

Having additional hobbies

Problem gamblers generally find that their lives revolve around their gambling: thinking about past losses, dreaming of what they’ll do if they get a big win, and coming up with ways to ensure that they can continue gambling. This unhealthy fixation prevents a person from leading a fulfilling life.

One way a person can prevent gambling from becoming the center of their world is to take up additional hobbies. Gambling, like all things, should be done in moderation, and having other entertainment outlets is important to prevent addictive behaviour. Reigniting old passions or discovering new ones can ensure that gambling stays fun and in control. Those who need help finding a new hobby can start by talking with friends and family about things they like to do, attending local events, browsing online forums, or simply trying something out for themselves.

If a person’s gambling gets to the point where they are no longer interested in any other activity, they are likely a problem gambler and may have clinical depression, as well. The person should stop gambling and discuss treatment options with a primary physician, psychologist, or counsellor.

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