A few years back I began gambling online, betting on professional football games. I had never made such wagers before, but easy access and my knowledge of the NFL convinced me to give it a try. I thought it might be fun and relatively safe. “After all,” I reasoned, “as long as I limited my bets to what I could afford and stuck to what I knew the best, it would be almost impossible for me to lose.”
Wrong! In a very short time my betting escalated and I was several hundred dollars in the red (not exactly chump change for someone at my income level). Fortunately I came to my senses and stopped before the situation worsened. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if it was great self-awareness or simply a shortage of funds that ended my fruitless flirtation with Lady Luck. Either way, it made me vigilant about gambling addiction warning signs!
With gambling there is no good answer to the question “how much is too much?” because gambling addiction is such a sneaky disorder that there is no easy way to tell when you might be getting in over your head. The threshold of dependency is undoubtedly different for each person, and that is why everyone who chooses to gamble for fun and profit needs to learn to recognize the signs that might indicate he or she is on the verge of developing an uncontrollable compulsion.
Signs You May Have A Gambling Addiction
- You’ve begun straying outside your area of expertise/interest: You might start out only playing the lottery, or dropping a few dollars in the slot machines at your local casino every other weekend. But if you find your gambling activity spreading beyond the games of chance that brought you to the proverbial table in the first place, it is a definite indication that you are developing an unhealthy relationship with your new hobby. In my case I actually did OK in the beginning when I was betting strictly on NFL games. But after I started wagering on college football and major league baseball — which at the beginning I had never intended to do — my success rate plummeted. And yet, for some reason, I kept right on making those bets.
- Structured activity has morphed into frequent spur-of-the moment wagering: Is all of your gambling activity planned out ahead of time, or have you suddenly found yourself making a lot of spontaneous last-minute wagers based on hunches or whims? If you started out doing the former but eventually switched to the latter approach — which is how it happened with me — rest assured you are headed for big trouble.
- The time you’re spending on research exceeds the amount of time you actually spend gambling, and by quite a bit: If you have become so obsessed with winning that you’re spending multiple hours each week researching innovative gaming strategies, or frantically searching for inside information that will allow you to beat the point spreads, this demonstrates pretty conclusively that your casual interest has devolved into a compulsion.
- Gambling is on your mind all day long: Here is one of the most telling indicators that you’ve begun to sink into the quicksand. Gambling should be strictly a part-time hobby and not a lifestyle choice, and if wagering is on your mind 24 hours a day it means your perspective is disappearing fast. Fortunately I never reached such an extreme phase, but nevertheless the amount of time I spent thinking about my next bet had grown exponentially by the time I decided to stop.
- You have started to lose track of how much you are losing: In gambling parlance, there is a particularly self-destructive type of betting activity known as “chasing your losses.” This means that in response to failed wagers, you keep betting more and more in a desperate attempt to get out of the hole, and when things reach this point, you will almost inevitably start to lose count of just how far behind you really are.
Once you no longer know how far into the red you’ve fallen, you are clearly on your way to a full-blown gambling addiction, and this is as good a sign as you’re ever going to get that you need to get out and get out in a hurry. I have to confess that I’m not certain just exactly how much money I lost during my brief gambling career — hence my use of the vague term “a few hundred dollars” earlier — and that tells me that I made a very wise decision to quit wagering when I did.