The NHS estimated that as many as 250,000 people in the UK are addicted to gambling, spending a combined total of £7 billion every year.
Only 5% of gambling addicts actually seek help for their problems.
There are a variety of treatment options available for those suffering with a gambling addiction (otherwise known as problem gambling or pathological gambling), and hypnotherapy is an increasingly popular option. Hypnotherapy aims to tackle both the addiction itself and any underlying problems thought to have triggered the addiction (such as trauma, stress, lack of self-confidence or depression), in an attempt ease the addict out of the compulsion to gamble.
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What is gambling?
The term 'gambling' is thought to be derived from the Old English verb 'gamenen', which means to 'play, jest, be merry.'
The nature of the game
Certainly, gambling is in many ways a game: it involves a person putting themselves forward for a challenge and using either skill, tactics or probability to win it. In most games, the idea of 'losing' is conceptual, meaning no one makes a literal loss - the losers simply miss out on winning. For instance: think about quiz-shows on TV such as 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and 'Eggheads'. In these games, both teams play for one prize. At the end, one team or contestant goes home with the money and the other goes home with nothing. No one really loses their own money and the only risk element is losing money that has already been won.
'Winning' can be conceptual in some games too. Think of family board games such as Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly - no one wins any money, everyone simply plays for a sense of fun, excitement and achievement.
With gambling, the ideas of 'winning' and 'losing' are a lot more concrete and as such, a lot more dangerous. If you lose a gamble, you lose money or other assets. If you win, you gain money or other assets. The more you put at risk, the more you could potentially lose or gain.
That's not to say that people don't gamble 'for fun'. Millions of people across the world place bets on sporting events such as horse racing, dog racing, football and rugby every year, simply for harmless fun. For instance, many families in the UK traditionally bet on the Grand National once a year, where even very young children are encouraged to pick the horses they think will win.
Gambling is not a problem for the vast majority of people. In fact, gambling is thought to be as old as human civilization itself.
A short history of gambling
Just how old is gambling? Experts can only hazard a guess at answering this question. However, the oldest six-sided dice on record was unearthed by archaeologists in Mesopotamia (northern Iraq), and is thought to date as far back as 3000 BC, making it over 5000 years old.
There are also records of gambling from both the Ancient Chinese and Ancient Egyptian civilizations. Egyptian history is, in particular, rife with stories of gambling. Egyptian tombs have been found full of gambling paraphernalia and paintings depicting gambling games that even the gods were believed to play.
In Ancient Rome, gambling was commonly practised but nonetheless looked down upon as a useless activity. The consensus was similar in the Middle East, where the Koran, the holy Islamic text, denounced gambling as a 'great sin'.
The Roman historian Tacitus, who famously documented his travels across Northern Europe, wrote that the Germanic tribes were brutal gamblers who would often risk all of their wealth and freedom on one throw of a dice. If they lost, they would resign themselves to subservience and be sold at the market as slaves.
In early Britain, clergymen and bishops were thought to be keen on dice games. That is, until a decree was established under Henry III's rule that prohibited the clergy from any form of gambling. Since then, many acts have been passed in Britain in an attempt to regulate the act of gambling, from prohibiting it as a profession, to prohibiting non-governmental lotteries.
Today, the gambling industry is thought to be worth as much as £19 billion, and 33 million British citizens are thought to have tried gambling at some point in their lives. In October 2005, the Gambling Commission was created as a way of formally regulating gambling in the UK by ensuring that it remains as legal, safe and fair as possible.
Types of gambling
Gambling takes many different forms. Here are some of the most common forms of gambling:
This often involves placing money on sporting events. These kind of bets are usually made between a customer and a bookie. It is essentially an agreement where a customer will pay the bookie a certain amount of money to predict the outcome of an event. If the prediction turns out to be correct, the bookie must then pay the customer the correct amount of money depending on the odds of the bet placed. For instance, if the customer placed a winning £10 bet on odds of 1/100, they should receive £1000 in winnings.
This is a building with a special licence to host gambling games. Casinos house table games such as roulette and dice games, card games such as baccarat and blackjack, as well as gaming machines. Casinos have been highly glamorised by Hollywood films like James Bond, and are traditionally places for the 'upper classes' to frequent.
Bingo is a game of chance involving randomly drawn numbers. Bingo can be played either online or in a bingo hall. the game is traditionally popular with women (70% of UK bingo players are female). Statistics show that online bingo is played by more than 100 million people across the globe, making up 85% of all bingo players. 50% of online players play every single day. Socialising is thought to be an important part of bingo as people have the chance to socialise both online and in halls.
Gambling machines can be found in pubs, arcades and casinos. They usually involve flashing lights, buttons and spinning jackpot wheels for the chance of winning money.
Online betting is something that has taken off hugely over the last decade or so. The easy accessibility of things like online poker means many people who wouldn't usually walk into a casino or a betting shop are now able to have a go from the comfort of their own homes.
A lottery is a game of chance which is very popular in Europe. Players pay a certain amount of money to buy a set of numbers of their choice. The numbers are then drawn randomly and the winner is the person who has guessed all or most of the numbers correctly. In the UK, a national lottery, known as the Lotto, is broadcast live on television twice a week. Around 32 million people are believed to participate across the country, and according to probability, you are more likely to die than to win the Lotto jackpot.
Why do we gamble?
Clearly, gambling is something that appeals to the human mind, as it has done for thousands of years. So why do we do it when it is widely know that 'the house always wins'? This means that casinos and betting shops meticulously arrange the odds so as to make a profit from losing gamblers. The bottom line is - gamblers are more likely to lose than to win. So just what is it about risk-taking that some of us find so appealing? And why are these people so different from people who shy away from taking risks?
Recent research has revealed that there may be a biochemical reason why some people enjoy taking risks and others don't. The results showed that dopamine, the 'feel-good' chemical produced by the brain, could be a large part of the reason.
To test this idea, scientists compared brain scans from a group of 'adrenaline junkies' (people who actively seek risks) against scans from a 'normal' group, and found that the adrenaline junkies had less dopamine-inhibiting receptors. Dopamine-inhibiting receptors act to regulate the amount of dopamine in the brain. A lack of these receptors results in an excess of dopamine in the brain. Could this be the reason why 'adrenaline junkies' get more of a 'buzz' from risk-taking than those who are generally more cautious? These findings could explain why some people feel like they need to keep finding bigger and better ways to get that flood of dopamine, causing them to go back to take risks again and again, which eventually leads to dependence. This is currently a very controversial hypothesis in the field of addiction study and scientists need more evidence before they can successfully develop treatment methods based on this conclusion.
Taking risks is part of human nature. As natural hunters we thrive off the sensation of fear and anticipation. As well as being hunters, we are extremely curious and somewhat greedy creatures. All of these primitive characteristics can no longer be fully satisfied in civilized society, making gambling an ideal hobby. It stimulates the mind, gets the heart pumping faster and introduces a level of challenge that promotes a sense of purpose and ambition. These components are especially attractive to a person who is not enjoying certain aspects of his or her life. Emotional states thought to lead to gambling addiction include:
- Low self-esteem - People with low self-esteem are drawn to gambling because winning can induce a sense of self-worth and achievement.
- Lack of direction or purpose - Some people who feel like they lack the ambition or drive to achieve anything in life might experience a big win and suddenly feel like all their failures can be resolved if they win just one more time.
- Stressed - Sometimes stressful situations can lead us to seek a form of escape. Some of us pick up a book, buy a DVD or immerse ourselves in a video game. Others choose gambling as a means of escape and find that they can use it to distract themselves from life's problems.
- Depressed - Depression can lead to a total lack of feeling or emotion. This 'dead' or invisible feeling can cause us to seek activities that make us feel alive again. The excitement of taking a risk can seem very appealing to a person who hasn't felt much of anything in a long time.
Do you have a gambling addiction?
There is a big difference between a person who enjoys an occasional bet at the races a few times a year, and a person who can't get through the day without taking some kind of gamble. Where is the line between hobby and addiction and how do you know if you've passed it?
Recognising a gambling addiction:
There are a number of signs to look out for if you think you or someone close to you might be developing an addiction to gambling. These include:
- finding it difficult to stop gambling
- spending too much money - often more than you have
- increasingly argumentative or defensive about money
- becoming increasingly reclusive
- losing interest in socialising or other hobbies
- always talking or thinking about gambling
- lying or hiding habits from other people
- gambling to get out of financial trouble
- borrowing money, selling items or ignoring bills to fund gambling
- needing to risk larger amounts of money to get enough of a 'buzz'
- neglecting relationships or responsibilities
- feeling or acting depressed and miserable
- feeling suicidal.
Living with a gambling addiction
As with all compulsive and uncontrollable behaviours, living with a gambling addiction can have a seriously negative effect on all aspects of an addict's life.
Gambling addiction is incredibly isolating and sufferers tend to become more and more secretive as their problem spirals further out of control.
Watching your partner struggle with an addiction can be extremely distressing. Often the initial reaction to finding out that your partner has a gambling addiction is anger. Spouses may find huge amounts of money missing from the bank account, or suddenly find out that they are being evicted from their home due to an inability to pay the rent. In these stressful financial situations, it is often difficult to feel any sympathy. Unfortunately, many relationships break down over serious financial issues and sometimes shock, anger and confusion can override the love we feel for someone. Although it is difficult, it is important for partners to research as much as possible about gambling addiction before they react. They may find that the problem stems from somewhere deeper, and that it would be more beneficial to tackle these emotional problems before dealing with the financial side of the situation.
Many single gamblers find it difficult to maintain a love-life. This is because for them, getting their next 'hit' is the most important thing in life, taking priority over everything else. Taking a potential love interest to a bookies for a first date probably isn't going to go down very well. For single gambling addicts, life is often put on hold so that they can concentrate on gambling. This can lead to intense loneliness and isolation, increasing the likelihood of low moods and serious mental health conditions such as depression. Single gamblers are more likely to feel like they have 'less to lose' and will tend not have the same support as an addict with a partner might have, perhaps increasing their chances of spiralling completely out of control.
Friends and family
Gambling addiction has a domino effect on the lives of an addicts' family and friends. Sometimes addicts end up stealing from the people close to them because they adamantly believe they will be able to win it all back. Inevitably, they often lose that money too and end up ostracising themselves or ending up in prison. A person's gambling addiction can also have a terrible effect on their children. What happens to them after all the money has been gambled away? Gambling addicts tend to live in denial, always relying on the next win and refusing to think about what would happen to their children if they lost their money, possessions and home.
The obsessive nature of gambling addiction often makes it very difficult to uphold standards at work. Addicts may lose sleep from spending all night online betting. This makes them more likely to arrive at work late and feel physically and emotionally exhausted - if they manage to arrive at all. Sometimes the compulsion to gamble will hit while they are supposed to be working, causing many addicts to abuse company time with online betting. These bad habits will often be picked up on by bosses, commonly resulting in job loss.
A gambler who finds him or herself unemployed is, unfortunately, more likely to place bigger bets to try to win money back. This can result in huge amounts of debt which mounts so high that the addict feels there really is nowhere to go.
Rates of suicide attempts among gamblers are more than twice the national average in the UK.
How to stop gambling
There is no one answer to fighting any addiction - apart from not doing it anymore that is. Of course, if this were possible, addiction would not be the massive problem it currently is. So how do you stop gambling when more often than not, gambling is your life?
Recognising your problem is the first (and most difficult) step in learning how to stop gambling. Seeing as you are already reading this page, it looks like you're already halfway there.
Now you need to find a treatment option that suits you. Try to:
1. Understand your addiction
Keep a diary
To fight your addiction, you need to really understand the patterns and behaviours you exhibit. Often it's difficult for us to take a step back and look at ourselves objectively. An easier way of keeping track of your addiction is to keep a diary. This doesn't have to be too time-consuming. Simply reserve fifteen minutes every day to jot down your thoughts and feelings. Try to work out how long you spent gambling and how much money you won or lost. Reading these details back will help you see the extent of your addiction, and also help you to regain control.
Read up about addictions. Search the Internet for blogs written by addicts. Finding other people going through the same thing as you could make you feel less alone in your struggle to stop gambling. Compare notes and publish your findings - the Internet is a fantastic way of communicating and exchanging ideas without having to reveal your identity. If you find it difficult to log on to the Internet without visiting online betting sites, adjust your parental control settings and ask someone else to create a password so you cannot access them.
2. Seek help
Family and friends
Confide in somebody you trust. Try not to be afraid of admitting your problem to them, no matter how ashamed of yourself you feel. They may initially be shocked, but having the support and help of another can take away a lot of the strain and responsibility you might feel trying to stop gambling alone.
Before you even think about your financial or job situation - you should think about your emotional well-being. Cognitive behavioural therapy is strongly recommended by health experts to help address the source of addiction as well as the addiction itself. Similarly, you may find counselling of some benefit and many counsellors specialise in debt management.
If you would like to find out more about counselling, or search for a counsellor near you, you may find our partner site Counselling Directory useful.
Hypnotherapy for gambling addiction
Hypnotherapy is a popular and effective method for treating gambling addiction. Hypnotherapy induces a state of deep relaxation which makes it easier for a hypnotherapist to access a client's subconscious mind. By digging deeper into a client's subconscious, a hypnotherapist can explore the routes of certain behavioural patterns and, by using the power of suggestion, help the client to break out of these patterns. By altering their thought processes and learning to channel their emotions in different ways, an addict can learn to overcome their gambling addiction and also learn techniques to keep them going even when their hypnotherapy sessions are over.
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