Gambling is one of the most popular pastimes in the UK, with nearly half (47%) of the population reported to have gambled in some form in the last month. The vast majority of those that gamble will play the lottery each month or place a few bets on the FA Cup or Grand National. However, a proportion of players become ‘problem gamblers’, with gambling negatively impacting their personal or professional lives.

According to one estimate from NHS Digital, there are around 280,000 problem gamblers in the UK, with other studies putting the figure even higher. It is a growing public health concern. Nonetheless, one should be clear in the differences between problem gambling and ‘gambling addiction’ as Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D points out “all gambling addicts are problem gamblers, but not all problem gamblers are gambling addicts.”

Whilst spending more money than they should on gambling could cause someone financial difficulties and make them a problem gambler, this alone would not make them an addict. In gambling addiction, the sufferer has a pathological disorder where they are completely unable to resist their impulses to gamble. The gambling addict will generally progress from occasional gambling to habitual and persistent gambling where they will risk ever greater sums, leading to significant personal problems, financial distress, and possibly criminal behavior.

Do you have a problem?

Acknowledgement of the problem is the first step towards recovery, but gambling addicts are often unaware, or in denial, of their problem, and awareness may only come when they reach rock bottom. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of gambling addiction to recognize it in yourself or others.

If you or someone you know has experienced any of the following symptoms, it may be time to find help.

  • You need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to feel the same excitement
  • You become restless and/or irritable when you try and stop or reduce your gambling
  • You have made repeated failed attempts to stop gambling
  • You are constantly thinking about gambling – what your next wager will be or where you will buy your ticket
  • You gamble to alleviate feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiousness, or depression
  • After losing you will quickly gamble again to try and ‘recoup’ your losses
  • You lie to friends or family about the extent of your gambling
  • You have jeopardized a significant relationship, job, or educational opportunity because of your gambling.
  • You rely on others to bail you out financially from hardship caused by your gambling

Techniques to reduce or stop gambling

There are various tried and tested ways to help you tackle this problem, but keep in mind that you are not alone. Thousands of other people are in the same position as you and help is available if you are struggling.

Delay and distract yourself

One of the best-known ways is to delay putting down your bet. This gives you time to reconsider. Once you have decided to delay the bet, it’s time to distract yourself with another activity so that you can try to get the thought out of your head and focus on something else. There are many things you can do: take a walk, hang out with friends, read a book, or watch a movie. Pick something that you enjoy and that you know will help you relax.

Keep a diary

Every time you are feeling the urge to gamble or just after a gambling session, write down your thoughts, feelings, and anything that comes to mind. By keeping track of your gambling this way, you can begin to better understand the reasons why you. This knowledge can improve your chances of overcoming the urge.

Write down reasons to quit

Write down the reasons why you want to stop gambling. Write about how it can improve your financial situation, create better relationships with friends and family, and make you happier. Refer back to these words when you’re feeling the urge to gamble so that you can remind yourself of what’s at stake.

Set goals

By setting short-term and long-term goals, you will be able to find more worthwhile things to channel your energy towards. It does not matter how big or how small these goals are, as long as there is a greater purpose beyond gambling that can motivate you to stop betting.

Seek help and support from others

To overcome any addiction takes great willpower and can be very difficult on your own. Speak with family or with trusted friends about your problem. It is far better to have the comfort of their support and for them to hold you accountable. Beyond family and friends, there are also gamblers anonymous support groups that you can join where you can talk openly with others in the same position as you as well as those further along their journey who may be able to share insights into how they managed to stop. The support, advice, and accountability that is available from a support group can be invaluable.

More information about the signs of problem gambling can be found on the Gambleaware and Gamcare websites. They also provide general information about where to get help if you or someone you know has problems with their gambling. You can call the national gambling helpline free of charge on 0808 8020 133 (24 hours a day). This list of problem gambling organisations can also help you find a service that is right for you.

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