Internet gambling a dangerous addiction

Easy access makes Internet gambling a dangerous addiction

Gamblers don’t have to go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas to get their fix. Now, thanks to the Internet, poker games, slots and even roulette are just a mouse click away.

But convenience can be costly. Easy access to Internet gambling increases opportunities for players to become addicted to gambling.

“You can gamble on the road. You can gamble on the fly. You can gamble sitting in the airport or anywhere there is an Internet hot spot, 24/7,” says John O’Neill, director of the Professionals in Crisis Program at The Menninger Clinic who specializes in treating addictions. “But gambling on the Internet is very different than going to a casino. People are less inhibited when they are at home or on their computer.”

An estimated 85 percent of adults in the United States have gambled once in their lives, and approximately 2 million people are pathological, or problem, gamblers, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Few statistics show how widespread Internet gambling is since the phenomena is so new.

Television shows like the “World Series of Poker” and “Celebrity Poker,” and television and radio ads fuel the Internet gambling craze. Web sites lure players in, letting them play for free to practice their gambling skills. As players gain experience, they can opt to gamble for money. Players download the software, give the Web sites their credit card numbers and they are ready to go.

“On the Internet, gambling and paying with credit cards–which doesn’t really feel like you are handing out that $20 bill–is a powerful mix,” O’Neill says. “You think, ‘What’s $20 on my credit card? I will pay it off.’ Next thing you know it is $50, then $100 and then you don’t care how much you spend. You’re focused on winning it back.”

Like any addictive substance or behavior, Internet gambling can pack a powerful high. Once the initial high wears off, players gamble more and more to try to recreate that rush.

“In the back of their minds there is always that possibility that the next time they gamble they will strike it rich,” O’Neill says. “That’s pretty exciting. All of us want to win.”

Many people who gamble on the Internet don’t think they have a problem until they fall seriously in debt. O’Neill says the screening process used by the Menninger Professionals in Crisis Program often uncovers gambling problems in patients who were admitted for other psychiatric or behavioral problems, such as depression. They begin gambling over the Internet to cope with their depression and escape the stress and struggle of their daily lives.

Treatment for patients with gambling problems may include attending Gambler Anonymous meetings and therapy to determine what triggers their gambling. To reduce temptation, patients at Menninger are not allowed access to the Internet during their treatment and are taught strategies on how to develop a plan to use the Internet once discharged.

Involving the family in the treatment process is also crucial to the success of recovery from a gambling addiction. Therapy can be a struggle if the individual goes back home to an environment in which family members also gamble.

Do I have a gambling problem?

To find out if you have a gambling problem, ask yourself whether any of the following criteria for problem gamblers, published by The National Council on Problem Gambling, applies to you:

  • You have often gambled longer than you had planned.
  • You have often gambled until your last dollar was gone.
  • Thoughts of gambling have caused you to lose sleep.
  • You have used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid.
  • You have made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling.
  • You have broken the law or considered breaking the law to finance your gambling.
  • You have borrowed money to finance your gambling.
  • You have felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling.
  • You have gambled to get money to meet your financial needs.

If you or someone you know answers “yes” to any of the statements, seek further assessment and help from a mental health professional that specializes in gambling or addictions.

From a press release of the Menninger Clinic.

Memoirs of a Compulsive Gambler The Problem, the Pain and the Path to Recovery

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