Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) is an annual campaign held every March to increase public awareness about problem gambling and the availability of prevention, treatment, and recovery services. This campaign is an important way to reduce the stigma associated with problem gambling and provide hope for those struggling with gambling addiction.
When is Problem Gambling Awareness Month?
Problem Gambling Awareness Month is held every March. It was first established in 2008 by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) as a way to highlight programs and services available for those affected by problem gambling during the month. The goals and messaging for PGAM are focused on reducing stigma, educating the public on responsible gambling and identifying the signs of gambling addiction, and increasing awareness of treatment and recovery options.
What is problem gambling?
Problem gambling, also known as gambling disorder, is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress. It is characterized by symptoms such as:
- Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
- Restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
- Preoccupation with gambling (constantly thinking of ways to get more gambling money)
- Gambling when feeling distressed
- After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (“chasing” losses)
- Lying to conceal gambling activity
- Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or educational opportunity because of gambling
- Relying on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling
Unlike those who gamble recreationally, problem gamblers are unable to control their gambling despite the harm it causes in their lives. Problem gambling can affect people of any age, race, gender, or background. It is estimated that around 2-3% of American adults meet criteria for gambling disorder.
What are the warning signs of problem gambling?
Some common warning signs that may indicate someone is struggling with problem gambling include:
- Obsession or constant preoccupation with gambling, such as constantly thinking about past gambling experiences or planning the next gambling venture
- Needing to gamble with larger amounts of money or take greater risks to achieve the desired level of excitement
- Repeated failed attempts to control or stop gambling
- Restlessness or irritability when not gambling
- Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of anxiety, guilt, helplessness, or depression
- Trying to win back losses by gambling more (chasing losses)
- Lying to conceal gambling activity from loved ones
- Financial problems including debts, depleted savings, or unexplained shortage of money
- Borrowing money to fund gambling or pay debts
- Missing work or school to gamble
- Damaged relationships due to lying about or neglect from gambling
What are the effects of problem gambling?
Problem gambling can negatively impact the gambler as well as their family members, friends, and colleagues. Effects may include:
- Financial issues – Problem gambling often leads to severe financial consequences like overwhelming debt, bankruptcy, eviction, or inability to pay for daily expenses.
- Relationship problems – Lies and secrecy around gambling combined with lack of money can seriously damage close relationships and lead to isolation.
- Legal issues – Problem gamblers may resort to illegal acts like theft, fraud or embezzlement to fund their gambling or pay debts.
- Job loss or dropped out of school – Preoccupation with gambling and related problems can disrupt work and education.
- Mental health issues – Rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are higher among problem gamblers.
- Substance abuse – Some problem gamblers have co-occurring disorders and abuse drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
- Health issues – The stress of gambling problems combined with an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to issues like high blood pressure, stomach disorders, headaches, insomnia and other problems.
Without treatment, problem gambling tends to be progressive in nature and gambling behaviors typically increase over time. This can amplify the negative impacts on the individual and their loved ones.
What causes problem gambling?
Problem gambling is complex, and there is no single cause. Some contributing factors may include:
- Genetics – Specific genetic factors may increase susceptibility to compulsive behaviors like problem gambling.
- Brain chemistry – Imbalances in neurotransmitters like norepinephrine may play a role in gambling behaviors.
- Personality traits – Impulsivity, competitiveness, obsessiveness may contribute.
- Mental health disorders – Issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to co-occur with gambling addiction.
- Trauma – Exposure to trauma or stressful events may increase the risk of compulsive behaviors and addiction.
- Family influence – Having a family member with gambling addiction increases genetic susceptibility.
- Early exposure – Exposure to gambling early in life may increase chances of developing an addiction.
- Escape and dissociation – For some, gambling offers an escape from problems or mental dissociation from reality.
- Chasing losses – Attempting to win back losses can draw someone into a dangerous cycle.
While gambling addiction was formerly classified as an impulse control disorder, more recent research indicates that problem gambling shares many similarities with substance addictions. This has led to gambling disorder being reclassified in the DSM-5 as a behavioral addiction.
Is there treatment for problem gambling?
Yes, various treatment options have been shown effective for helping individuals overcome problem gambling:
- Self-exclusion – Voluntarily banning oneself from gambling establishments or websites.
- Support groups – 12-step groups like Gamblers Anonymous provide peer support and tools for managing the addiction.
- Therapy – Counseling approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy help change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around gambling.
- Medications – Anti-craving drugs like opioid antagonists may help control compulsive urges.
- Financial counseling – Developing money management skills and resolving gambling-related financial issues.
- Lifestyle changes – Adopting healthy coping strategies for stress and positive social support can promote recovery.
As with other addictions, treatment is typically most effective when using multiple strategies in a comprehensive program tailored to the individual’s needs. With appropriate treatment and support, problem gambling can be overcome in the long term.
How can you get help for problem gambling?
If you or someone you know may be struggling with problem gambling, help is available through various resources:
- Talk to your doctor for screening, referrals and treatment options.
- Contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-522-4700).
- Find a local Gamblers Anonymous meeting for peer support.
- Look for certified gambling counselors who specialize in treating this addiction.
- Contact your local department of health or human services about publicly funded treatment programs.
- Use online tools and resources offered by groups like the NCPG.
- Check if your employer has an employee assistance program that offers counseling services.
Don’t let shame or fear of consequences prevent you from seeking help. Many excellent treatment options are available to get back on track financially, rebuild relationships and lead a happier life free of addiction.
What happens in problem gambling treatment?
While treatment plans are tailored for each person, generally the process may include:
- Evaluation – Assessing the physical, psychological and financial impacts of the gambling problem.
- Stabilization – Addressing any co-occurring disorders. Stopping gambling and improving the person’s financial and personal situation.
- Counseling – Individual, group or family therapy focused on managing triggers, changing thought patterns, developing coping skills and preventing relapse.
- Support groups – Local support groups or intensive residential treatment programs with other recovering gambling addicts.
- Changing behaviors – Finding healthier recreational pursuits and lifestyle habits to fill the void left by quitting gambling.
- Addressing financial issues – Developing a plan for paying debts, rebuilding credit and managing money effectively going forward.
- Medications – Prescription drugs to help control cravings in some cases, under medical supervision.
- Recovery plan – An individualized plan focused on relapse prevention tailored to the person’s risk factors.
For many people struggling with problem gambling, a combination of one-on-one therapy and group counseling focused on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) methods tends to be most effective. Medication may also be used as an adjunct treatment in certain cases.
How does someone recover from problem gambling?
Recovering from problem gambling requires commitment, hard work and time – but it is certainly possible. With dedication to treatment and positive lifestyle changes, individuals can take back control and rebuild their lives after addiction. Some keys to long-term recovery include:
- Abstaining completely from any form of gambling.
- Avoiding temptation and triggers like casinos, racetracks, or gambling websites.
- Replacing gambling with healthy recreational activities and hobbies.
- Developing new daily routines and schedules to stay busy.
- Learning money management skills and improving financial stability.
- Building a strong support system of family, friends and recovery groups.
- Seeking counseling and sticking with treatment even during challenging times.
- Focusing on overall wellness – proper nutrition, exercise, quality sleep, stress management.
- Practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation to cope with cravings if they arise.
- Staying vigilant about high-risk situations and possible relapse.
With dedicated effort over time, individuals can overcome compulsive gambling behaviors, restore their relationships and financial health, and build a positive lifestyle they feel proud of every day.
What are some healthy alternatives to gambling?
There are many fun, engaging activities that can provide recreation, reduce stress, and activate the brain’s reward system without the damaging effects of compulsive gambling:
- Exercise and sports – Join a running club or recreational soccer league. Take up yoga, cycling or swimming.
- Creative hobbies – Try expressive outlets like painting, photography, pottery, writing, or learning a musical instrument.
- Games and puzzles – Play strategy or word games, put together jigsaw puzzles, build Lego sets.
- Nature and animals – Plan hiking trips, go camping, volunteer at a shelter, adopt a pet.
- Travel and culture – Learn about destinations you’ve always wanted to visit, check out local museums.
- Spending time with others – Spend quality time with family and friends, join a book club.
- Relaxation practices – Try healthy stress relievers like yoga, meditation, massage therapy.
- Home projects – Take on DIY improvements, gardening, or cooking new recipes.
The key is to sample new activities to find healthy hobbies that capture your interest and provide enjoyment. This can help fill free time previously spent gambling and provide a sense of reward without the high financial and psychological costs.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month provides an excellent opportunity to highlight key information and resources for gambling addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery. Problem gambling is a serious issue affecting many people, but with proper treatment and a solid support system long-term recovery is achievable. It’s important to overcome stigma around the topic, so those struggling can get the help they need to regain financial stability, mend relationships, and build healthy, fulfilling lifestyles. With increased awareness and compassion around problem gambling, we can support individuals and families in reclaiming their lives from this destructive addiction.