Sports betting has become increasingly popular in recent years as a result of easy online access via sports betting platforms coupled with the legalization of sports betting in many states. While the vast majority of individuals will gamble on sports games responsibly, a small number will develop problems around sports betting including mental health issues and continuous betting may lead to a gambling addiction. Prevention is always better than intervention, and as such it is important to know the early warning signs of a sports betting addiction and steps you can take if you or a loved one has a sports gambling problem.
What Is A Sports Betting Addiction?
A sports betting addiction, sometimes referred to as a sports gambling addiction or simply a gambling addiction, is when an individual experiences a pathological obsession and compulsion to bet on the outcome of sports games and sports related activities. Individuals addicted to sports betting will continue to place bets despite adverse consequences such as financial troubles, relationship issues, or mental health challenges. The pervasiveness of a sports betting addiction, clinically termed a gambling disorder, can range from mild to moderate to severe, and some individuals may present with an even milder form of a sports betting addiction often termed “problem gambling.”
Why Is Sports Betting Addictive?
Sports betting is addictive for many reasons. For starters, when individuals win a sports bet it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, resulting in the feeling of pleasure. Over time the individual’s betting behavior is reinforced as a result of this pleasurable sensation, resulting in continuous betting. Sports betting is also addictive because it creates a sense of excitement and anticipation. This can lead to a rush of adrenaline, further reinforcing the betting behavior. Sports betting also serves as a form of escapism, allowing bettors a temporary distraction from their day-to-day stressors. Lastly, sports bettors often feel that they have an edge over other bettors due to their extensive research and knowledge surrounding their bet, a psychological reinforcer among gamblers known as the “illusion of control.”
What Are The Signs Of A Sports Betting Addiction?
Recognition of the signs of a sports betting problem can allow for intervention before the gambling problem progresses. Signs of a sports betting problem include but are not limited to pre-occupation, obsession and compulsion to gamble, unsuccessful attempts at stopping or cutting down, feeling that one has to increase the amounts of bets or frequency of bets in order to achieve the same amount of previous excitement, lying about betting, stealing to bet, wagering money that one does not have or that should be spent on bills or necessities, putting sports gambling before relationships or career, spending extensive time, energy and resources on sports betting and related activities such as sports related research, and feeling restless or irritable when trying to stop or cut down on sports betting, among many others.
Is A Sports Betting Addiction Dangerous?
Excessive sports betting can result in a host of issues including but not limited to mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, sleep disturbance, substance abuse, relationship and career problems, low self-esteem, feelings of shame or guilt. In extreme cases, excessive sports betting can lead to suicidal ideation and ultimately suicide. Due to the progressive nature of problem gambling, individuals who believe they have a problem and are unable to stop or moderate their betting should seek out professional help immediately from a gambling addiction specialist. If a family member, friend or colleague has a sports betting addiction but is unwilling to seek help, an intervention may be needed.
What Should I Do If I Have A Sports Betting Addiction?
There are many pathways to recover from a sports betting addiction. Some individuals may be able to stop or moderate their gambling on their own, and can utilize practical strategies such as having a loved one monitor their finances and blocking sports betting related platforms on their digital devices. Individuals should occupy their free time taking up new healthy hobbies or re-engaging in ones they used to find pleasurable, and should also work towards living a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, proper nutrition, a regular sleep and wake cycle aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep, getting out in nature, and other healthy behaviors.
In lieu of professional help from a sports betting addiction specialist, some individuals may benefit from mutual help groups such as SMART Recovery or Gamblers Anonymous. Family, friends and colleagues may benefit from similar mutual help groups geared towards loved ones of an addicted individual such as SMART Recovery Family and Friends or Gam-Anon.
In some cases individuals may benefit from professional help, especially if they are unable to stop or moderate their gambling on their own. There are many forms of professional help for a sports betting addiction. Some individuals may require going to an inpatient treatment center where they will live for 30 to 90 days, while others may be able to recover on an outpatient basis by attending an outpatient treatment center specializing in gambling addiction or by seeking out a therapist, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner or psychologist that specializes in gambling addiction. Recovery coaches and recovery companions that specialize in gambling addiction can also be of great value. If you’re having difficulty finding professional help, you can call or text the National Council on Problem Gambling helpline 24/7 for confidential support and guidance at 1-800-GAMBLER.
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