In the UK, there are around 400,000 people who struggle on a daily basis with an addiction to gambling. However, this is an addiction that is often unnoticed by others, and this is partly due to the fact that there are no obvious physical signs of it. Unlike an alcohol or drug addiction where the effects of the substance can change the behaviour of the individual, it can often be impossible to tell when someone is gambling to excess until their habit has reached crisis levels. This is one of the reasons gambling addiction often goes under the radar and is commonly referred to as a secret addiction. Nevertheless, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, who is a consultant psychiatrist at the National Problem Gambling Clinic, believes there is another reason.

Why a Lack of Training is Leading to a Growing Number of Gambling Habits

According to Dr Bowden-Jones, a lack of training among medical professionals could be contributing to a growing number of gambling problems being missed. She said, “For many years while drug and alcohol addictions were being researched and funded in terms of treatment, the issue of gambling wasn’t taught at medical school. Even as an addictions psychiatrist, we weren’t taught about pathological gambling – I came across it by chance.”

It is true that gambling is known as the hidden or secret addiction and that many people are spiralling down a path of destruction without their loved ones having any idea of what is going on. Thanks to the advent of the internet and mobile devices capable of accessing it anywhere and at any time, increasingly more people are developing problem gambling habits.

With an onslaught of advertising for gambling websites and the promise of free bets, many individuals are tempted to open new accounts in the hope of securing a big win that would change their lives. The reality is that only a very small minority will win big while many will go on to develop a crippling habit that will destroy their life.

Dr Bowden-Jones believes that if more medical professionals were trained to spot the signs fewer people would find themselves in such devastating positions.

The Consequences of a Gambling Addiction

Those who find themselves struggling with a gambling addiction will often suffer terrible consequences. What might start of as a fun activity in the early days can spiral into something extremely destructive. When gambling begins to consume the individual and starts to have a negative impact on his or her life, it is then classified as being at the addiction stage.

While the addiction is developing, the gambler may begin spending larger amounts of money to fund his or her habit, which can result in huge debts. Some gamblers will spend their life savings without their partner being aware that they are secretly pilfering the money put aside for a rainy day or retirement. Others will re-mortgage their home and, by the time their partner discovers that anything is amiss, they could be on the verge of losing everything.

The destruction and devastation that can be caused by a gambling addiction can leave entire families on the brink of collapse. In some instances, the gambler will become so obsessed with gambling and a need for money that he or she will become aggressive and even violent towards a loved one who is preventing him or her from satisfying the habit.

Dr Bowden-Jones believes that a gambling habit begins to take over the individual and gets in the way of any passion or focus that the gambler previously had for loved ones and friends. She said, “It’s linked to the emotional disconnection you end up having with your partner or children because you’re just not there, either physically because you’re in the bookmakers or mentally because you’re disengaged, thinking about the gambling.”

While there tend to be fewer physical symptoms of a gambling addiction, particularly in the early days, as time goes by, stress and other factors can result in problems such as weight loss. Some problem gamblers will not be eating enough food; this can because they are so preoccupied with gambling that they neglect to eat or they have spent all their money on gambling and then cannot afford to buy food.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

One of the main reasons gambling addiction is allowed to progress to critical levels is that it can be so easily hidden from loved ones, but another reason is the fact that many gambling addicts do not know where to go for help.

In 2016, gambling charity GambleAware reported that only 8,800 people accessed help or advice, which is just over 2% of the number of those with a problem. According to Dr Jane Rigbye, the charity’s director of commissioning, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the issue and to let people know that help is available. She said, “Although the impacts are as detrimental to family life, development and health, the kudos it’s given by other professionals isn’t as high as other addictions, partly because there’s no clear pathway for treating someone with a gambling problem.”

It is true that many free services are hard to find when it comes to treating this problem and hence is one of the main reasons gambling addiction is on the increase. Nevertheless, there are other options available to those struggling to break free.

Here at Middlegate, we work with providers of both free and paid-for services for all types of addiction. We know that accessing an NHS-run programme for gambling addiction can be tough and that there also tends to be a lengthy wait for treatment, but private clinics are working hard to make sure that this illness can be treated quickly and efficiently. If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, you do not have to continue living this way. In fact, there are so many reasons gambling addiction should be tackled as soon as possible.

A Progressive Illness

Like almost every other addiction, a gambling addiction will not go away if you ignore it. Addiction is an illness that hijacks the reward centre of the brain and those affected are unable to resist. Even after a particularly bad loss or a showdown with family members where the gambler promises that he or she will never gamble again, when the urge raises its head once more, the affected person is powerless to resist.

He or she might convince him/herself that they are going to win money that can then be used to pay back all the money previously lost. Their thinking completely changes when faced with the urge to gamble.

As time goes by, the addiction will get worse and worse. The individual may become desperate to recoup losses and will need to gamble higher amounts to achieve the same sense of anticipation and exhilaration. Without treatment for this illness, it can be hard to overcome.

Some people attempt self-exclusion techniques, which can work well for those who have discovered early in their illness that they are in trouble. If they have a fervent desire to quit gambling or have been faced with an ultimatum from a loved one, they may be able to stay away from gambling. Nonetheless, for those with a severe illness, these self-exclusion techniques rarely work.

It is more common that they will require a programme of rehabilitation where they can address the cause of the addictive behaviour and learn ways to avoid it going forward. For those with a serious gambling problem, it is usually necessary for them to enter an inpatient programme where they will be away from the temptation to gamble for a period of around six to eight weeks. This will give them time to break the habit and to work on ways of changing maladaptive behaviour with positive behaviour.

If you or someone you love is living under the weight of a crippling gambling addiction, please know that help is available. Here at Middlegate, we will provide free assessments before matching you to a suitable provider of rehabilitation. We will look for providers that specialise in gambling addictions in your area while taking other factors into consideration, such as your personal preferences, commitments at home and at work, and your budget.

For more information on how to overcome your gambling addiction, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. You can call our dedicated helpline today or use the contact page on this website and we will contact you.

Why Gambling Addiction Goes Under the Radar