An estimated 20 million people worldwide gamble online at internet casinos. In 2007, Americans (who were technically not allowed to use online gambling venues) spent $34 billion on gambling in bricks and mortar casinos, and that number does not include the amount spent at Native American casinos.
There is no question that visiting a casino or gambling online is an exciting activity. Most people play purely for entertainment, while some online gamblers take the necessary time to learn the skills required for games like the many variations of online poker with the aim of winning money (at least more often than they lose it). For many people, there is a definite “high” associated with risking money on games, and for a small subset of those people, gambling turns into a full-fledged addiction that can cost them their livelihood, their family, and their entire way of life.
Problem gambling can be thought of as a spectrum of problems. While some people do become seriously addicted, others sometimes get carried away in the thrill of betting, lose more money than they expected, and then stop when they realize the consequences of their actions. Others gamble when they are anxious or depressed, coping with life changes and trying to enjoy a temporary distraction from the problems in their lives.
Most people are able to keep their gambling under control by simple measures such as limiting their bankroll and practicing their own standards as to when to walk away after a certain level of loss (or gain, for that matter). But there are others for whom gambling shows signs of turning into an addiction. How can you tell if your online casino visits are no longer an entertaining diversion, but a real problem?
One serious red flag is when a person gambles to obtain money with which to solve financial problems, such as paying bills or debts. Borrowing money or selling important possessions to finance gambling is another strong indicator that a person’s gambling is out of control. If gambling causes a deterioration in a person or their family’s standard of living or general welfare, it’s a problem. And if a person does something illegal (or considers doing so) to fund gambling, that means gambling has gone well beyond being a form of entertainment.
Resources are readily available to those who think they may have an addiction to gambling. Counseling, peer-support groups, step-based programs, and even medications are used to treat problem gambling, though no medications have been approved specifically for treating pathological gambling in the US by the Food and Drug Administration. Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program for treating gambling problems patterned after the 12-step program used in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The bottom line is that with gambling addiction, as with any addiction, the addict has to admit he or she has a problem and choose to address it; the problem will not go away on its own. If you or a loved one has a problem with pathological gambling, then a good place to start is either with a local Gamblers Anonymous group (In the US, you can call 888-424-3577 toll free) or at gamblersanonymous.org.