Struggling with an addiction can be a lonely, isolating experience. No one ever seeks to slip into habits of an addiction, but sometimes extenuating circumstances and certain risk factors predispose some individuals to addictive behaviors.

Unfortunately for veterans, the difficulties and challenges of the military, and the years readjusting to civilian life after time in the service, can be the catalyst which causes some of these behaviors to manifest. Included in these habits is problem gambling.

What is problem gambling?

According to a source published by the VA, problem gambling is “defined as having some gambling-related difficulties, which can also be called symptoms. Having many of these symptoms, at the same time or within the same year, could [indicate] a gambling disorder….Generally, having a few gambling-related problems indicates problem gambling; and the more gambling-related problems you have, the more likely it is that you might have a gambling disorder.”

The gambling habit may be the cause of a number of social, financial and mental health problems, all of which are ignored as one pursues the release of dopamine that comes with feeding addictive habits.

Most of the time we would associate dopamine releases with illicit drugs, but problem gambling can actually have a similar effect on the brain’s reward system – the surge of excitement that comes from winning, or even potentially winning, can cause that same dopamine release which oftentimes leads people to repeat the behavior to feel the effect again and again.

Gambling addiction is, obviously, different from illicit drug addiction as gambling does not immediately alter brain chemistry in the way drugs or alcohol do, nor can one overdose from gambling. They are similar, however, in that both addictions are the result of an obsession and both will cause numerous negative consequences in one’s life.

Signs and symptoms of problem gambling

Because problem gambling is not often a common topic of discussion, it can be easy to accidentally assume it is not a wide-reaching problem. But according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately 6-8 million people struggle with problematic gambling habits. 

Additionally, studies have been completed amongst veteran populations and have identified that veterans, as a result of the numerous mental health difficulties they face as a result of time in combat and the challenges of the transition to civilian life, are no less susceptible to showing signs of problematic gambling. One study concluded that 13.4 percent of veteran participants reported gambling problems.

It can be difficult to identify behaviors associated with problem gambling, but signs and symptoms beyond financial troubles will begin to arise when a gambling addiction is forming. 

These signs may include: 

  • Preoccupation with gambling, and having an urge to return to where this is possible (casino, bar, purchasing more lottery tickets, etc.)
  • Thoughts about when and where you will be able to gamble again
  • Continuing to gamble even though you are aware of the financial problems it is causing 
  • Experiencing problems at work, school, in relationships or amongst family and friends as a result of gambling habits
  • Needing to bet increased amounts of money, or feeling the need to gamble more frequently in order to experience the same sensations, or feelings of being “high” 
  • Trying to stop gambling, but being unable to cut back despite your best efforts
  • Falling into bankruptcy or severe debt as a result of uncontrolled gambling habits

Not all individuals will experience severe symptoms, but they may identify in their lives certain patterns of behaviors associated with problem gambling that they wish were not present. Additionally, you may have noticed some of these symptoms in your loved one, or seen the financial impacts of gambling. For those seeking it, help is available to overcome these negative habits. 

Finding freedom for veterans

For veterans – and all of those struggling with problem gambling – several treatment options can be effective. By learning to understand your thought patterns and the associated behaviors, you will learn to control impulses, understand why certain thoughts arise and how to combat them and craft healthy routines to replace negative ones. 

To learn more, or to get in touch with a therapist today, contact Silvermist Recovery by calling 724-268-4858.