Gambling is generally thought of as an escape from daily problems. It is viewed as a free time activity that adds some excitement to a dreary day and a place where people can get together to chat and have fun at a poker table.
The problem is that there are people who are prone to get addicted. And, unlike other addictions such as alcohol or drugs, in most cases, there are no physical or mental signs at the beginning. Plus, this addiction can develop in everyone regardless of age, working class, or gender. That is why gambling addiction symptoms are hard to recognize at the beginning for both the player and the people around them. Basically, they think playing is just a hobby and nothing else.
We made the same mistake with one of my friends. Let’s call him Ben. He is an intelligent man with two diplomas. The man had a nice wife, children, multiple homes, and a successful business. In fact, I was a little jealous of him. He seemed to have it all.
Then, one day, he joined a poker party. At first, he played weekly with a small amount of money. Then, he played more and more with a large amount of money. Eventually, he could think and talk only about gambling.
Now he lives alone without his family, and no one trusts him because he cannot repay the money borrowed from others. His life has become a complete disaster.
Did we fail to recognize the signs? The fact that such a friendly, intelligent individual could become addicted to seemingly innocent passion is beyond our comprehension. Looking back, we realized we needed to be more cautious. Many warning signs indicated he had a gambling problem we were unaware of.
To maintain the excitement, he had to gamble more and more money
He was about 30 years old when he first sat at the poker table with a few of his business partners. He was so delighted about the atmosphere and the feeling of winning a few bucks that he talked about it for days. After a few months, he began playing once or twice a week. He joined a variety of groups as well.
He started playing with a few tens of dollars. Initially, he played just for the excitement of the game. Eventually, he moved up and played with hundreds. I asked him why he needed to increase the risk, and he replied that it meant more excitement and more win. However, hundreds were no longer enough. In the end, he played with tens of thousands of dollars.
In the same manner that an alcoholic must drink more and more to obtain the same feelings, a gambler must risk more and more to accomplish the same outcomes.
Since gambling activates the brain’s reward system, it is addictive. As we gamble, we take risks and sometimes win, which leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us happy. As time passes, we become accustomed to combining gambling with this feeling of happiness, and we continue to play.
To conceal his passion, he always lied
We were group friends who usually came together on Saturday evenings for a few beers. Then, it happened more and more times that Ben said he was too tired to go or needed to work. For a few times, it was OK. We believed him.
But, once his wife phoned me to ask what was the Saturday meeting like because Ben went home almost in the morning. When I told her that Ben had not been with us for weeks, she could not believe it. Ben told her he was going to be with us. We put together the puzzle that Ben was with his “new” friends playing poker.
He began to lie about everything from that point on. He once sold some company assets, and when we asked him why, he claimed he needed money for a project. We knew this was not true since his business was flourishing. Over time, he became increasingly stressed and annoyed, and whenever we urged him to stop gambling, he stated he had not played for weeks.
Ultimately, we could not communicate with him because his personality had changed so much, and we did not believe what he was telling us.
Upon being told to stop, he became restless and irritable
Of course, when we realized that Ben had gambling problems, we told him to quit numerous times. He had different reactions. Sometimes he lied that he had not played for weeks. Sometimes he started to shout to us that it was his life and leave him alone. Sometimes he promised he would stop. And sometimes, he admitted that he was addicted and he could not do anything against it. And he did the same with his wife and everyone who cared about him.
His personality changed over time. From being a powerful goal-oriented individual capable of achieving anything, he became an annoyed, depressed, and overwhelmed individual who had two lives. A normal one and a gambler one. But, it appeared that the gambler side would prevail.
He always thought about gambling
No matter what we wanted to talk about with him, we turned back to gambling. The only thing he was interested in talking about was just what he had won or lost. We never heard him talking about his family or business. It was like gambling was the only thing that was in his mind.
After a year, his business, which had been running perfectly, slowly started to collapse as well. Instead of thinking about new projects and development, his mind was all about the next poker party. He clearly needed to take drastic measures when the orders started to decrease. Desperate to solve his financial problems, he turned again to gambling in the hopes of winning a fortune!
He once told me that it was as if an inner voice was always urging him to play again. And that voice was so loud that he could not focus on anything else.
Despite losing a great deal, he went back to gambling
The most obvious sign of poker addiction is this. Many of us do our best when we lose something to avoid losing it again. We learn from our mistakes. However, for a gambler like Ben, this is not true.
I heard gossip that Ben had lost over 50K dollars. Since we had been friends for many years, I took the liberty to ask him if it was true or not. He said yes. I was shocked, telling him he must stop! What was his answer? “Don’t worry about me! I’m going to make 3 times more this night” No matter what I said, I could not convince him that he was running to his doom.
The life of a gambler is a vicious circle. The more he loses, the more he plays to regain his loss.
Sadly, he lost his family and friends
Initially, the family and I tolerated Ben’s venomous passion. His beautiful, intelligent wife believed it was merely a hobby that enabled Ben to relieve stress. After Ben began going home early in the morning, four to five days a week, selling the business properties, and there was no communication between them, she gave him a choice: your family or poker! Ben chose poker, and she left with the children.
Ben tried to return to his family many times, promising he would quit. But, he always relapsed. At this point, his wife could not believe him anymore.
The same happened to us, with friends. We were neglected and were good only when he wanted more money to play. We gave some to him, but he never repaid anything. It is not about the money, but more about the respect he did not give us anymore. So, slowly the friendship was gone.
To sum up
All of the symptoms we observed and experienced with Ben were typical of pathological gamblers. Sadly, we were powerless to intervene. We saw how a person of such value was swept away into the depths of addiction. I hope my story will assist you in recognizing the signs of addiction.