Frequently Asked Questions – Families

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  • What is problem gambling?
  • Am I, or is someone I know, a problem gambler?
  • How can you help yourself or someone you know with a gambling problem?
  • What will happen when you call the problem gambling helpline?
  • Is problem gambling really a big “problem”?
  • Isn’t problem gambling just a financial problem?
  • How Does Someone Develop Into a Problem Gambler?
  • Are Problem Gamblers Irresponsible or Weak-willed People?
  • What kind of people become problem gamblers?
  • What are the types of problem gambling?
  • Do casinos, lotteries and other types of gambling “cause” problem gambling?
  • What are the similarities and differences between a substance abuser and a problem/pathological gambler?
  • How can a person be addicted to something that isn’t a substance?
  • Can children or teenagers develop gambling problems?
  • How can you tell that someone may have a gambling problem?
  • Are problem gamblers usually addicted to other things too?
  • Can you be a problem gambler if you don’t gamble every day?
  • How much money do you have to lose before gambling becomes a problem?


  • Q: What is Problem Gambling?
    Problem Gambling is recognized as a chronic disorder marked by an uncontrollable urge to gamble. The individual cannot stop gambling despite mounting negative consequences to him- or herself. These consequences are usually financial issues that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family, educational and/or vocational interests.

    Q: Am I, Or Is Someone I Know, a Problem Gambler?

    Q: How Can You Help Yourself or Someone You Know with a Gambling Problem?
    Call the Problem Gambling Helpline 800-GAMBLER (426-2537), and you can click here for additional problem gambling help.

    Q: What will Happen when You Call the Problem Gambling Helpline?
    A professional, master’s level counselor will listen to your concerns and answer your questions about problem gambling. The counselor may ask you questions to help determine the most appropriate resources for your situation and then they will give you information on how to access those resources in your area (i.e. Gamblers Anonymous, treatment providers, credit counselors, etc.). Everything you discuss with the counselor is confidential and the call is free, 24/7!

    Q: Is Problem Gambling Really a Big “Problem”?
    In June of 2011, the National Council on Problem Gambling reported that an estimated 1% of adults in the United States – 2.2 million people! – met criteria for pathological gambling, and another 4 to 6 million adults and 500,000 teenagers can be considered problem gamblers.

    All told, as many as 8.5 million Americans may experience problems resulting from their gambling each year. In other words, they met at least one of the criteria for pathological gamblers, and are experiencing problems resulting from their gambling.1

    An even larger percentage of Californians are affected by Problem Gambling: an estimated 1.5% of California’s residents (420,000 people) meet criteria for pathological gambling and another 2.2% (616,000 people)2 could be considered problem gamblers. In other words, between 1/8th and 1/4th of all problem and pathological gamblers in America live in California!

    Important note: Pathological gambling is a disease that can affect anyone, but does not affect everyone. Research shows that most Americans and Californians are able to gamble responsibly.

    Q: Isn’t Problem Gambling Just a Financial Problem?
    No. 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 real problem is that they have an uncontrollable obsession with gambling.3

    Q: How Does Someone Develop Into a Problem Gambler?
    To escape their problems, avoid negative feelings like boredom, loneliness, guilt, depression and pain or to enjoy feelings of excitement, challenge or the thrill of winning or getting attention.

    Q: Are Problem Gamblers Irresponsible or Weak-willed People?
    No. Many people who develop problems are viewed as responsible and strong by those who care about them, and may experience changes in behavior as the result of precipitating factors such as increased stress and/or major changes life changes.4

    Q: What Kind of People Become Problem Gamblers?
    Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are unaware of the risks and/or do not gamble responsibly.4

    Q: What are the Types of Problem Gambling?
    Action gambling is gambling for a “rush” or a “high.” Action gamblers are often intelligent, ambitious, type-A personalities possessing a strong competitive drive. They want to beat the “house” or other players, and they gamble for the thrill of winning. Action gamblers prefer forms of gambling containing a perceived element of skill such as: poker, blackjack, craps, sports betting, horse or dog race betting, or the stock market.

    Action gamblers may also gamble to escape problems.

    Escape gambling is gambling to escape problems in personal or business life. This type of gambler usually plays against machines and avoids human contact (e.g. slot machines). The gambling tends to have an emotional “numbing” effect on the individual.

    Q: Do Casinos, Lotteries and Other Types of Gambling “Cause” Problem Gambling?
    The cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s inability to control the gambling. This may be due in part to a person’s genetic tendency to develop addiction, their ability to cope with normal life stress and even their social upbringing and moral attitudes about gambling. The casino or lottery merely provides the opportunity for the person to gamble. It does not, in and of itself, create the problem any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic.1

    Q: What Are the Similarities and Differences Between a Substance Abuser and a Problem/Pathological Gambler?
    Similarities

    • Seeking immediate gratification
    • Preoccupation with thoughts about gambling/using
    • An inability to stop
    • The abuser or gambler denies the problem

    Differences

    • Pathological gambling is easier to hide
    • Most people do not consider gambling a problem
    • There is less help for problem/pathological gambling 

    Q: How Can a Person be Addicted to Something that Isn’t a Substance?
    Although no substance is ingested, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as they might get from taking a tranquilizer or having a drink. Gambling can alter the gambler’s mood, which can result in them continually repeating the action in an effort duplicate the effect. However, 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. This creates an increased craving for the activity, and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency.3

    Q: Can Children or Teenagers Develop Gambling Problems?
    Yes. In fact, research shows that a vast majority of kids have gambled before their 18th birthday, and that children may be more likely to develop problems related to gambling than adults!

    The part of the brain which most directly controls decision making is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex does not finish fully developing for most people until they are in their mid-20s. This means that children, teenagers and young adults are even more susceptible to developing gambling problems!

    Nationally, gambling is legal for anyone aged 21 and over. However, in many states, youths aged 18 and over can participate in most forms of casino gambling. And some states even allow youths under the age of 18 to participate in a few forms of gambling, such as placing bets at the track. Youth also participate in illegal forms of gambling, such as gambling on the Internet, with friends and family, or betting on sports.

    Q: How Can You Tell That Someone May Have a Gambling Problem?
    Possible indicators include, but are not limited to:

    • Being secretive or lying about gambling
    • Frequent trips to ATM machine
    • Gambling for long unbroken periods of time
    • Withdrawing from or neglecting family, friends, work, and/or school
    • Frequently thinking about gambling
    • Unable to stick to betting limits
    • Making desperate statements when gambling
    • Irritable or restless, in a trance or appearing to be “high”

    Q: Are Problem Gamblers Usually Addicted to Other Things Too?
    It is generally accepted that people with one addiction are at a higher risk to develop another. Problem gamblers are more likely to have, or develop a problem with, alcohol or drugs. This is not, however, a guarantee: some problem gamblers never experience any other addiction because no other substance or activity gives them the same feeling that gambling does.3

    Q: Can You be a Problem Gambler if You Don’t Gamble Every Day?
    The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. Even though the problem gambler may only go on periodic gambling binges, the emotional and financial consequences will be evident in the gambler’s life.3

    Q: How Much Money Do You Have to Lose Before Gambling Becomes a Problem?
    The amount of money lost does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact in any area of the individual’s life.3

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