25th Febraury 2018
Gambling problems can emerge at any stage of life. Many of the individuals we treat for problem gambling report the onset of problems in adolescence. Others develop problems in middle age. Very rarely, older people suffering from Parkinson's disease are prescribed medication that can, as a side effect, cause problem gambling.
* Gambling with higher amounts of money: This can sometimes be a telltale sign that something is wrong. A pattern of increasing spending on gambling can also be a worrying feature. It is not uncommon for a problem gambler to spend an entire month's wages in a day. Problem gamblers also frequently underestimate the amount they spend on gambling. If you are concerned about your own gambling or that of a loved one, simply calculating the amount spent over a day, week and month can be a good starting point in working out whether there is a problem or not.
* Changes in behaviour: Family members sometimes notice that there is a change in behaviour as the gambling behaviour of their loved one worsens. They can report their loved one becoming moodier, angry and distant.
* Borrowing money or selling items to fund gambling: Our recent research of online gamblers in Ireland showed that 75pc of our study sample had borrowed money or sold something to fund their gambling. This is a clear warning sign with regard to problem gambling.
* Evidence of problem gambling around the home: Bank account statements may show excessive gambling. Sometimes getting access to bank statements can be difficult as the person suffering from problem gambling may seek to keep all mail and bills from their partner to hide a problem.
* Excessive time on a smartphone: There are many reasons nowadays as to why people spend too much time on a smartphone - social media, news sites, video gaming, work emails. Excessive gambling is another reason for excessive smartphone usage. Family members of a problem gambler often recount that they had no idea that there was any problem apart from their loved one spending a great deal of time on the smartphone. As Gambling Disorder is often a hidden illness, this may be the only clue for family members that there may be a problem with gambling.
* Attempts to reduce gambling: Many problem gamblers have identified that they should gamble less, but when attempt to do so encounter a change in mood, irritability or restlessness. When a person continues to experience urges or cravings to gamble when there are clear problems (debt, relationship and work problems) this can suggest problem gambling.
* Lack of insight: Most individuals suffering from addiction struggle to see the extent of their problems. Gambling Disorder can be particularly problematic in this regard. We encounter individuals who have clearly experienced grave problems as a result of gambling but continue as if there is no problem, convinced that they will have a 'big win' to solve all their problems.
* Gambling to regulate emotions: Gambling regularly to distract from low moods or when anxious may be a sign that gambling is being used to drown out emotions rather than to deal with them in a healthy manner, i.e. exercise, talking to friends and family, or counselling.
* Lying is very common in all addiction illnesses: Gambling Disorder is no different. If you are lying to loved ones about the extent or nature of your gambling, this is likely to indicate a problem.
* Missing work, losing friends or having arguments with loved ones: These signs are not uncommon when gambling becomes disordered.
Colin O'Gara is a consultant psychiatrist and head of addiction services at St John of God Hospital, Dublin