A lot of people enjoy a game of online poker here and there... but how do you know when it has become problem gambling? Online poker addiction is a real issue ramping up amongst a younger generation, too.
Whilst gambling can be a fun and harmless pastime, for some, it can turn into a life-ruining addiction. So how is online poker addictive, what are the warning signs, and where can addicts go to get help? Let's take a look.
How Does Online Poker Become Addictive?
Gambling, in general, stimulates the brain's reward system in a similar way to drugs and alcohol, and therefore, it can lead to addiction almost as easily.
Addicts also tend to be attracted to the risk-taking aspect of gambling. Studies have shown that there is a chemical link between risk-taking behavior and addiction in the brain.
Online gambling and poker specifically are so addictive because it is a fast-paced, constant, and overall more immersive experience. You can also keep playing for as long as you want, as online casinos don't have a closing time.
Why Is Online Poker Worse Than Live Poker?
Compared to land-based poker rooms, online poker sites tend to be worse for the following reasons.
Online poker surpasses the thrill of live poker because it allows players to play multiple games at once. Live poker, in which you play a single hand, is also very slow in comparison. Whereas poker online games, where the cards are generated instantly and randomly, adding to the excitement.
Easy To Conceal
Additionally, when you play online instead of at a casino, there is no staff watching you. This is attractive to addicts, who typically want to hide their behavior from the outside world.
Online poker is available anywhere, at any time, because of the accessibility to the internet and mobile apps. And this is what makes it arguably more dangerous and addictive.
Why Is It So Dangerous?
Online gambling is dangerous because you can become desensitized to spending money online. When you aren't getting cash or a card out of your wallet, your brain stops making the connection between your bank account and your purchases or deposits.
This is why online gamblers often end up getting into debt and even end up harming themselves because of it.
According to a study done by Lund University in Sweden, problem gamblers and gambling addicts are 15 times more likely to commit suicide. And in the UK, there are over 500 deaths related to gambling addiction every year.
Problem Gambling vs Gambling Addiction
What is the difference between problem gambling and gambling addiction? 'Problem' gambling is a term that is used to describe when gambling behavior disrupts somebody's life, but it is not yet addictive.
It is usually a precursor to addiction but is easier to fix because it is not yet compulsive.
Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder that describes compulsive gambling behavior, in which the person is not able to stop gambling despite wanting to.
Signs of Online Poker Addiction
Let's explore the some of the biggest signs of online poker addiction.
Loss of Control
If you feel that the urge to play online poker is overwhelming or you want to stop but can't, this is a strong indication of gambling addiction.
You will also feel as though you need to gamble rather than want to, even when the odds are stacked against you.
Arguably the biggest sign of addiction of any kind is the inability to think about anything else but what you are addicted to.
You may lose interest in other areas of your life such as family, friends, romance, hobbies, and work.
More Money & More Time
Another sign that someone may be addicted to gambling, is increasing the amount of money at stake, even when the odds are not stacked in your favor.
You may also feel that placing large bets which you can't afford to lose is worth the risk, and find yourself spending unreasonable amounts of time gambling, sometimes without even realizing it.
Impact on Personal Life
When gambling is negatively impacting your health and relationships, it has become a problem. It may even affect your ability to eat, sleep, and look after yourself.
Gambling addicts also frequently find themselves feeling anxious and on edge, sometimes to the point of nausea and vomiting.
Your family relationships, romantic relationships, friendships, and work-life may also be strained.
A huge sign of gambling addiction is feeling the need to keep your behavior a secret from those around you.
If you find yourself attempting to hide how much you have spent on gambling or the fact that you gamble at all, you may have a problem.
Finally, you may tell yourself and others that you do not have a problem with gambling. You may also feel very emotional and defensive towards the idea.
Signs To Look For in Others
What are some signs to look for in other people who may be struggling with a gambling problem?
Gambling addiction and addictions in general often follow periods of extreme stress or emotional trauma, such as bereavement, assault, or previous addiction.
Changes in Personality
People caught up in addiction often become socially withdrawn, secretive about their behavior, and easily irritated.
They can become emotionally manipulative, change their daily habits, and even become angry when you ask them about it. You may also feel that they are lying about their behavior or that their explanations for their behavior just dont make sense.
A big tell-tale sign that someone is struggling with addiction is that they are increasingly absent from your life. They may be constantly late home or keep showing up late for work.
Alternatively, they may keep missing commitments altogether, or taking significantly longer to do basic tasks than is necessary.
How To Get Help
Thankfully, there is help for gambling addicts out there.
There are multiple not-for-profit organizations that offer telephone helplines for gambling addicts to speak to in the initial stages of recovery.
This includes the National Gambling Helpline, as well as smaller, local gambling helplines and resources.
There are various non-profit organizations that offer virtual and face-to-face group meetings that work in a similar vein to Alcoholics Anonymous.
The most popular one is Gamblers Anonymous that works with the same 12-step recovery program.
If you're worried about your mental health and want to see a therapist, consider speaking to your doctor about the problem and enquire about getting the right help.
For most people, gambling is a harmless, exciting pastime. Try to keep it that way! Always set spending limits & stop when the fun does. Gambling addiction is a very serious problem. If you are struggling, you are not alone, please seek help as soon as possible.
This article was published on December 16, 2020, and last updated on May 31, 2022.