What does it mean to have a gambling problem?
Gambling is a problem when it negatively affects your finances, job, relationships with family or friends, or your health. Are you sometimes unable to pay the bills because you’ve spent your money on lottery or scratch tickets; card, slot, or dice games; sports betting; horse or dog races; or Internet gambling? When you lose money gambling, do you think that you need to bet more to win it all back? Have you tried to hide your gambling from family or friends? Is gambling the only thing you like doing, or do you spend most of your time thinking about ways to gamble? A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be a sign of a gambling addiction.
Gambling is betting something of value on the outcome of an event — like a football or baseball game, a card game, or a race — when the likelihood of winning or losing is uncertain. Although many people gamble occasionally, some people gamble even when it causes problems for themselves or others. They may want, need, or have tried to stop gambling but feel like they can’t. They may start gambling more often or taking bigger and bigger betting risks. These are some of the warning signs of a gambling addiction.
“In between deployments my buddies and I would hit the casino. But we ended up losing our paychecks and so I had to start coming up with creative excuses why I didn’t have any money for my family.”
For some Veterans, gambling starts as entertainment, but then can become a major way to relieve stress or boredom or to feel better when going through a tough time. Some Veterans may gamble for its sense of risk and thrill. Gambling can be a distraction, or perhaps a way to avoid coping with some of the difficulties that may arise when transitioning from military to civilian life. One of the symptoms of a serious gambling addiction is continuing to gamble even when you no longer find it enjoyable.
When gambling becomes a habit, it can cause problems with your job, relationships, and your mental or physical health. People who gamble compulsively may have financial issues, go into debt, or keep turning to others for gifts or loans. They may even steal from family, friends, or their employers so they can keep gambling. The need to gamble, the problems it causes, and the stress of not being able to stop can be related to guilt, depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol or drug problems, bipolar, and health issues.
If I’m experiencing a gambling problem, what can I do about it right away?
- Acknowledge that gambling has become a problem in your life.
- Recognize that it is possible to make a change.
- Make a list of reasons not to gamble that you can refer to when you feel the urge to gamble.
- Write down a list of things — including people and places — that make you want to gamble, along with ways that you can avoid them.
- Practice relaxation exercises such as deep breathing to help you manage stress and to manage feelings if you feel the strong urge to gamble.
- Make a list of activities you enjoy that you can do instead of gambling.
- Spend time with supportive people in your life who do not gamble.
People who are close to you may have noticed you’re having a tough time, even if they are unaware of your gambling. You may want to talk to your family and friends about what you’re experiencing. They may be able to provide support and help you find solutions that are right for you.
Take the next step to connect with care.
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- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers across the nation in all 50 states and US territories that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including counseling to eligible Veterans, service members – including National Guard and Reserve components – and their families. Counselors and outreach specialists, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma. To learn more, find your nearest Vet Center. Teams are also available 24/7 by phone at 1-877-927-8387.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.