Addictive Gambling

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Compulsive gambling is an addiction, like alcohol dependence or other drug addiction. Because no physical substance is ingested, gambling has been called the purest form of addiction. Although it is strictly psychological, the uncontrollable impulse to gamble can become overwhelming and eventually cause major disruption in a person's life—including loss of job, financial ruin, a broken home, criminal activity, and loss of self-respect and the respect of others. Many people have the potential to become addicted to gambling.

The term "problem gambling" includes but is not limited to the condition known as compulsive gambling. Gambling, like other addictions, is a progressive illness that cannot be cured, only kept under control. The growth and popularity of state lotteries, as well as gambling casinos on America's rivers and lakes (and land-based casinos in some states), has made gambling easily available. Horse racing, dog racing, and private illegal gambling operations attract many additional gamblers.

You may be addicted to gambling if five (or more) of the following factors apply to you:

• being preoccupied with gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money for gambling, or fantasizing about how to spend the money once you win)

• wanting to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired level of excitement

• trying repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to control, cut back on, or stop gambling

• being restless or irritable when attempting to cut down on or stop gambling

• using gambling as a way of escaping problems or of relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression

• returning another day to get even after losing money gambling

• lying to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with gambling

• committing illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance your gambling

• losing a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling

• relying on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling

Many addicted gamblers have the following personality traits:

• An inability or an unwillingness to accept reality. This attitude can lead them to escape into the world of gambling.

• Emotional insecurity. A compulsive gambler finds that he or she is most emotionally comfortable when gambling.

• Immaturity. Many gamblers seem to have a hard time accepting responsibility. They want to have all the good things in life without any great effort on their part.

If you think you may have a problem with gambling, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to refer you to a mental health professional who can help you overcome your addiction. For more information, contact the National Council on Problem Gambling, Inc. (800-522-4700) or Gamblers Anonymous (213-386-8789) or consult your local telephone directory.

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