Gambling issues rising during the COVID-19 pandemic

January 15, 2021 | by Justin Wolfe, LCPC, CADC, CRC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving new patterns (and increasing established patterns) of substance use and compulsive behaviors.

People who gamble regularly online are doing so just as often or more frequently during the coronavirus pandemic. Alcohol sales are up more than 60 percent and opioid overdoses have skyrocketed.

Recent reports show that online gambling services have exploded in popularity, which could lead to a subsequent increase in gambling addiction. You don’t know when it will go from “just fun” to a disorder.

The pandemic and quarantine threw life’s balance off for so many. Gambling addiction has grown out of stress, uncertainty, and disconnection from activities and people that once supported a sense of self.

Few of us are used to spending so many hours — day after day — in our own homes. As most people were literally left to their own devices during COVID-19-related shutdowns, many began engaging with technology in new and different ways.

Cut off from our regular outdoor activities, classes and workspaces, many people began feeling bored, anxious and depressed. The pandemic has caused stress about our health, work and relationships. These feelings, plus the shift of most interactions to an online forum, created a perfect storm for susceptibility to clicking onto an online gambling site.

COVID-19-related lockdowns worldwide have corresponded with a dramatic increase in many people’s screen time. And now we’re being bombarded online with messages promoting gambling as an outlet during this challenging time.

Online gambling sites have increased their advertising on websites, email blasts, radio and social media to lure potential customers. It often feels like you cannot browse the internet without being propositioned with a “free” first bet that is a sure win from a number of different sites.

This can be problematic for those struggling with a gambling addiction and those simply suffering from boredom.

The speed of online gambling contributes to the problem. Gamblers don’t have to wait for specific matches or tournaments, but can place bets in quick succession, chasing wins (or losses) one after the other.

Because it is possible to gamble using credit cards instead of cash in hand, debts can be run up extremely quickly before people even really wrap their heads around how much is at stake. The fact that this type of gambling is available 24/7 via a simple click on our phones or computers also factors into the heightened addiction rates.

Many people don't understand that a small casual bet can lead to a problem or addiction. For people who don't normally gamble, they might see gambling as a pastime to fill the void. Individuals who struggle with compulsive gambling, similar to individuals who misuse substances, will go to great lengths to find a way to gamble.

Gambling advertisements create the mistaken belief that gambling is a quick way to make money. However, gambling can bury families in debt and, even more devastating, it can lead to suicide by those who feel at a total loss of how to recover from the damage created.

When people think of gambling addiction, it is immediately assumed that most of the impacts are financial. While those who struggle with gambling do face financial difficulties as a result of their addiction, the negative effects of gambling go far beyond bank accounts and include damage to relationships, impact on work and even legal issues.

A gambling addiction usually isn’t as outwardly obvious as a substance use disorder. For one, gambling addiction is relatively easy to hide. It’s far more obvious if you are spending hours at the casino or at a racetrack than if you are simply sitting in the corner scrolling and clicking.

This lack of visibility can mean that others may not see that you need help until the problem has become very serious. Plus, a lot of people don’t consider gambling addiction a behavioral health problem and won’t seek treatment.

If you find yourself being negatively impacted by gambling, support is available:

  • Reach out to a family member, friend or trained professional who can offer support and guidance.
  • Join an online mutual self-help group (like Gamblers Anonymous) or call a gambling support line to find understanding, support and guidance during this time.
  • Decrease activities and behaviors that lead to isolation. Instead, connect with hobbies and interests that provide a sense of fulfillment and meaning.
  • Spend time with family members, loved ones or friends who validate one’s sense of self-worth.
  • Set up reminders of what gambling has cost oneself — not only financially but in the way of mental health, hobbies, sense of self and physical health.

There is much to be gained from conquering a gambling addiction. As you recover, you can begin to fill your life with positive, healthier outlets.

Linden Oaks Behavioral Health is open and available to support your recovery needs. At Linden Oaks, while we offer a number of virtual options, we have also maintained our face-to-face programming to foster support in a group setting. Read our safety commitment.

If you or a member of your family would benefit from working with a therapist, please contact Linden Oaks Behavioral Health at 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

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