10 Signs That You May Have a Gambling Problem

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Perhaps your idea of a perfect weekend is flying to Las Vegas, picking out the casino games with the best odds, and allotting yourself a set amount of money to gamble. Maybe this is how you choose to spend the entertainment money in your budget, or you’re meeting your friends for a weekend getaway.

Whatever the case, gambling can start out as a perfectly controlled activity. However, it can quickly become an issue for your well-being — both in relationships and financially speaking — if you’re not watching for warning signs. Unfortunately, having a gambling problem isn’t totally abnormal in the United States.

Like many addictive behaviors, the problem with gambling addiction isn’t the gambling itself — it’s how an individual responds to that activity. In fact, someone with a gambling addiction experiences the same effects in the brain as someone who is an alcoholic, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

“The gambling alters the person’s mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behavior attempting to achieve that same effect. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before,” the council explains.

While you might not think a gambling problem is much to worry about, the American Psychiatric Association lists pathological (or compulsive) gambling as an addictive disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, one of the key sources health professionals rely on for mental diagnoses. In addition to the toll it can take on relationships, a gambling addiction can also greatly impact your budget and financial picture.

Gambling’s Effect on Finances

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling in a paper titled “Problem Gamblers and Their Finances”, someone who becomes addicted to gambling will go through three main stages: the winning phase (when they discover gambling is exciting); the losing phase (when their losses begin to catch up with them); and the desperation phase (when the gambler finds themselves in dire financial straits in order to keep funding their compulsion to gamble). As those stages progress, the gambler’s perception of money mutates.

Money is no longer a means for achieving goals, having financial freedom, or for establishing security. “Instead, money to the gambler has only one value: to enable the gambler to keep gambling, to stay ‘in action,’” the paper explains. “This corrupted view of the value of money is why problem gamblers may do anything to obtain money to keep gambling — lying, borrowing, even stealing.”

This statement, of course, assumes that most compulsive gamblers have already begun maxing out their budgets and their credit cards, along with draining their bank balances, to support their addiction — behaviors that are the norm for people ensnared in an addictive cycle.

Unfortunately, even compulsive gamblers who are able to pay their bills will still struggle with the addiction itself — the issue isn’t just a money problem.

“Problem gambling is an emotional problem that has financial consequences. If you pay all of a problem gambler’s debts, the person will still be a problem gambler,” the council explains on its FAQ page.

The Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction

Of course, most people won’t take a trip to Vegas and come home ready to offer their homes as collateral to support their new gambling habit. But for some, the pastime can become an obsession that consumes their thoughts and their income.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling’s FAQ page, about 2 million Americans would qualify as pathological gamblers each year. Another 4 to 6 million people are considered “problem gamblers,” which means they’re not fully addicted but display one or more of the symptoms and are at risk for becoming compulsive gamblers.

The council provides several warning signs of compulsive gambling. If you or a loved one display these signs, it might be time to seek guidance from a health professional.

  1. You’re constantly thinking about gambling.
  2. You find yourself needing to bet more money, and bet more often, to get the same thrill you did when you started gambling.
  3. You experience restlessness or irritability when you try to stop gambling.
  4. You have begun “chasing” losses in attempts to recoup your money.
  5. Despite mounting financial woes and even perhaps struggles with loved ones, you can’t stop the urge to continue gambling.
  6. You get a thrill from taking big gambling risks.
  7. You relive past gambling experiences.
  8. You conceal or lie about gambling.
  9. You feel guilt or remorse after gambling.
  10. You borrow money or steal it in order to keep funding your gambling habit.

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or you believe a loved one is, the National Council for Problem Gambling provides a 24-hour help line at 1-800-522-4700. You can also check out the council’s list of help resources in each state, so you can find local assistance as well.

[Editor’s Note: Remember, high levels of debt, related to gamble or otherwise, can also affect your credit. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free scores, updated each month,on Credit.com.]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

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A 12-Step Program for Debt Addicts

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Debt can happen for a variety of reasons — you could be saddled with student loans, funding a home purchase or paying off credit card debt related to emergency car repairs. But for some people, money woes are the result of a serious proclivity to overspend.

People struggling with a debt addiction may be surprised to learn that there is a support group out there that can help: Debtors Anonymous is a 12-step program designed to help people whose use of unsecured debt is causing great stress in their and their family’s lives.

What Is Debtors Anonymous?

There is a reason why that format may sound familiar: The program grew out of Alcoholics Anonymous, the well-known, non-profit organization that helps people with drinking problems recover and stay sober. Back in 1968, a small group of recovering AA members began discussing their persistent money issues.

“[They] had gotten sober, but they were having difficulty with their debts,” said a spokesperson and member of the organization, whose name is being withheld for purposes of anonymity. “[They wanted] to apply what they learned in AA.”

Debtors Anonymous borrows heavily from the AA model. In addition to the 12-steps (one example: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all”), members attend meetings, use sponsors and contact each other ahead of and after high-pressure situations, like a necessary trip to a local mall.

There’s also strong spirituality component. Members can belong to any faith they choose, but the program does involve acknowledging that you need help from a high power to succeed, the spokesperson said.

To help identify and alleviate financial woes, members are asked to track spending in a notebook. They also sit down with two other members — “generally who have more experience than you,” the spokesperson said. “They should not have unsecured debt for at least 90 days” — to go over their finances.

Participation is free. And, of course, anonymous. Members don’t disclose last names, aren’t required to sign any paperwork and are asked to protect the anonymity of other people in their group.

In terms of funding, “we do pass the hat,” the spokesperson said. “We do donate to the program if we’re able to. If you can’t that week or don’t care to that’s perfectly all right.”

The organization also takes donations on its website. Anyone interested in getting more information about the Debtors Anonymous program can visit the organization’s website or call 800-421-2383.

Getting Help With Your Debt

Remember, there are other programs out there for people struggling with debt, though not all of them are free. Be sure to ask any organization you are considering about its fee structures ahead of time so you get a clear picture of what it may cost before signing up.

And no matter what service you are considering, it’s a good idea to research the organization or individual online to see what current or former patrons have to say. For instance, you may want to check their rating with the Better Business Bureau.

If you are saddled with debt outside of addiction, you may want to use certain pay-off strategies to alleviate money woes more quickly. You can prioritize payments by either attacking a balance with the highest interest rate or lowest dollar amount, review your budget to find simple ways to save or consider a balance transfer credit card or debt consolidation loan.

High levels of debt can impact your wallet and your credit score. As you work to improve your financial well-being, you can track your credit score progress by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.

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