Gambling is a well-known activity in Malta with all its lotto booths and betting shops. Worldwide it seems to be an increasing phenomenon, including online gambling sites for some years now. First of all, what exactly do we mean when we speak about gambling?

Gambling is an activity in which two parties participate, usually an operator and a gambler, and in which money or something of value is put at stake with an uncertain outcome and the wish to increase the bet value. There is a certain risk and chance involved.

Can one become addicted to gambling? The clear answer is Yes.

Gamblers can develop problematic gambling behaviour and even a gambling addiction/disorder. In the DSM-5, short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, which is the standard classification of mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, gambling disorder is listed as the only non-substance related disorder in the main category of substance-related addictive disorders. Non-substance related addictions are also called behavioural addictions – a person engages in a certain behaviour like gambling, sex or shopping for example, in excess and can’t stop.

A gambling addiction can lead to harm of different kinds – emotional, financial, social, physical and occupational. 1-2 percent of all gamblers develop an addiction. To be diagnosed with gambling disorder, the behaviour pattern must be severe enough to lead to significant impairments in the person’s life in different aspects. Also, the addictive behaviour would have to be evident for a time period of at least 12 months.

Let’s not get into detailed diagnostic criteria here, but look at what this kind of disorder/addiction can mean for the daily life of an individual and their relatives/family members and loved ones:

Studies have shown that a gambling addiction often goes hand in hand with poor mental health – gamblers developing an addiction might struggle with depression, anxiety, stress or a personality disorder. A gambling addiction can lead to destruction of friendships and relationships, loss of job due to bad performance, social and emotional isolation.

Many gambling addicts are living in denial, they act overconfident based on their distorted thinking and feel in control. They might show impulsive, energetic behaviour and seem restless. Often individuals with an addiction lie to their loved ones about their activities, others turn towards their loved ones admitting to have a desperate financial situation while others feel lonely, depressed and completely isolate themselves.

Based on the resulting behaviour of a gambling addiction, it is likely that the person’s relationships break due to loss of trust, inability to participate in family activities, stress, sometimes even financial abuse and violence. If the addicted gambler is a parent, there might be long-term effects on the child’s emotional and social wellbeing should there be neglect, high stress levels and family conflict caused by the addictive behaviour patterns.

As we can see, gambling addiction, just like other addictions, is to be taken seriously and requires professional intervention in most cases.

Should you wish to get to know more about prevention of gambling addiction and possible treatment, you might check out part 2 of this blog.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in trauma, addictions, migration, sexuality, and eating disorders.

References (Responsible Gaming Foundation)