Dr Eddie Column: Problem gambling

Is it me or has Cheltenham got bigger and bigger over the years? With the coverage on radio and so called free bets in daily newpapers, tipsters etc, it has become all consuming. I wear many hats one of which is the clinical psychologist for the Gaelic Players Association. It’s very interesting meeting elite hurlers and footballers from many different counties who experience many types of difficulties and helping them to sort things out. What we have found in the Gaelic Players Association is that Gambling is our most common referral, this can be traditional gambling or the more insidious internet gambling, including the virtual horseracing.

Is it me or has Cheltenham got bigger and bigger over the years? With the coverage on radio and so called free bets in daily newpapers, tipsters etc, it has become all consuming. I wear many hats one of which is the clinical psychologist for the Gaelic Players Association. It’s very interesting meeting elite hurlers and footballers from many different counties who experience many types of difficulties and helping them to sort things out. What we have found in the Gaelic Players Association is that Gambling is our most common referral, this can be traditional gambling or the more insidious internet gambling, including the virtual horseracing.

What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling includes all gambling behaviour patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family, work and social activities. The essential features are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behaviour in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.

In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.

What kind of people become problem gamblers?

Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. When gambling behaviour interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace, a serious problem already exists.

What types of gambling cause the most problem gambling?

Again, the cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s inability to control the gambling. Therefore, any type of gambling can become problematic, just as an alcoholic can get drunk on any type of alcohol. But some types of gambling have different characteristics that may exacerbate gambling problems. While these factors are still poorly understood, anecdotal reports indicate that one risk factor may be a fast speed of play. In other words, the faster the wager to response time with a game, the more likely players may be to develop problems with a particular game.

Can you have a problem if you don’t gamble every day?

The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. Even though the problem gambler may only go on periodic gambling binges, the emotional and financial consequences will still be evident in the gambler’s life, including the effects on the family.

How much money do you have to lose before it becomes a problem?

The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of the individual’s life.

How can a person be addicted to something that isn’t a substance?

Although no substance is taken, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a drug or having a drink. The gambling alters the person’s mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behaviour attempting to achieve that same effect. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased craving for the activity and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency.

Internet, smartphone and online gambling

The ready access to gambling via the smartphone is seriously concerning. I have asked many county players to revert to old phone types with no internet, thereby removing the access when the urge happens!

Treatment

Treating problem gambling can be challenging. That’s partly because most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem. Yet a major component of treatment is working on acknowledging that you’re a problem gambler. If your family or your employer pressured you into therapy, you may find yourself resisting treatment. But treating a gambling problem can help you regain a sense of control — and perhaps even help heal damaged relationships or finances.

Treatment may involve three approaches:

Psychotherapy. Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can be beneficial for problem gambling.

Medications. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help problems that often go along with problem gambling — such as depression. These are prescribed by your GP.

Self-help groups. Gamblers Anonymous www. gamblersanonymous.ie The only requirement is the desire to stop gambling.

Start Today Go to your GP and/ or get referral to your local HSE Addiction Counsellors.