Brien Gleeson, L.P.C., CSAC
Psychiatry & Psychology
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Don't bet on it: Know when sports gambling is more than entertainment
With March Madness just around the corner, the topic of sports gambling is worth exploration. Throughout history, people have found that applying a wager to the outcome of a contest makes things more interesting. That phrase has become synonymous with betting on a sport or game. For most of us, making a small wager on a game is fun and harmless. The problem with gambling is the subtle way in which it can take over our behavior and sensibility. This change can occur slowly or quite rapidly depending on a number of variables. The outcomes tend to be the same: damage to relationships, bank accounts, credit rating, and overall mental and physical health.
There are some simple rules to help manage gambling, as well as warning signs to help you see trouble coming. One of the first things to check is your attitudes or beliefs about gambling. Your beliefs will impact the way you conduct yourself when making a wager. The act of gambling itself can strongly contribute to the formation of these beliefs. They include the belief that gambling is an easy way to earn money, that gamblers are smart enough to beat the odds, and the more money spent gambling, the more that’s going to be won. That final belief is similar to the advertising buy now and save phrase. It sounds believable until you realize how illogical it is. Buying and saving are opposites; one does not lead to the other.
Once you accept that gambling is, as they say on the disclaimers, for entertainment only, follow a few simple guidelines to manage it:
- Never borrow money while gambling.
- Only bet what you can afford to lose.
- Money to wager should come only from your entertainment budget.
- Avoid ATM machines or lines of credit.
- Limit the time you spend gambling.
- Don’t drink and gamble.
- Remember gravity: what goes up must come down.
- Don’t play a game you don’t understand.
- Never lie about your wins or losses.
The cardinal rule for gambling is don’t chase your losses. Ultimately, you will lose money gambling. It is entertainment, not income. If this were not the case, casinos and bookies would quickly be out of business.
The act of gambling has a powerful effect on the human mind. Wagering can create a compulsive dynamic, which rises to the level of impacting mental, emotional and physical health. As a process, addiction can literally change the way the brain operates leading to a real need for help. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, a gambling disorder meets the criteria of persistent, recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four or more of the following in a one-year period:
- Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
- Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
- Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling.
- Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money
- with which to gamble).
- Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).
- After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (chasing one’s losses).
- Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
- Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.
- Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.
If any of this sounds familiar, this might be an indication that you need to reconsider your gambling habits. If your attempts to control gambling fail, consider seeking help.
So, enjoy March Madness. But, as you pick your brackets, remember that gambling and wagering can be a slippery slope. As long as you have your feet planted firmly on the ground, you can enjoy making things more interesting.
In this video, I speak with health educator Katie Johnson bout how to deal with addictions, including gambling:
Brien Gleeson is an addictions counselor in Psychiatry & Psychology in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.