What To Do If You Think You Have A Gambling Problem 

Posted on January 4, 2023

Most Marylanders who gamble online or at casinos play for fun. They set limits on the amount of money and time they will spend. A trip to the casino or placing a bet online is seen as an opportunity to experience the excitement and (hopefully) win some money. For others, however, gambling can become a problem — even an addiction.

Maryland Voluntary Exclusion Program helps problem gamblers

Online sports betting in Maryland recently made its debut. And with it have grown concerns over problem gambling — the uncontrollable urge to continue gambling despite the toll it takes on one’s life. 

Thankfully, there’s help at hand in the form of gambling addiction treatment programs. The Maryland Voluntary Exclusion Program is one such initiative instituted by The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency in 2011. The program allows individuals to voluntarily exclude themselves from casino or lottery play.

The program also allows for exclusion from Maryland bingo hallsIt also applies to online gamblers, such as sports bettors and daily fantasy players, who think they might have a problem.

Recognizing that you might have a gambling problem

The Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling is a program within the University of Maryland School of Medicine that supports those struggling with a gambling problem. Its mission is to minimize the risks associated with problem gambling, according to Program Director Mary Drexler.

“Our goal is to promote healthy and informed choices regarding gambling and problem gambling.” 

As such, the center encourages individuals who may think they have a problem to recognize early indications of unhealthy gambling habits. One method it advocates is screening for a gambling disorder, which helps to identify individuals who should seek further assessment for potential gambling-related problems. 

First, it’s important to understand the different levels of gambling.

  • Recreational gambling: Maintaining control over the time and money spent gambling
  • At-risk gambling: Gambling becomes more frequent and time-consuming
  • Problem gambling: Difficulties in limiting money and/or time spent gambling; leads to a negative impact on the gambler and others
  • Gambling disorder: Persistent and recurrent gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment
  • Pathological gambling: Gambling problem requires treatment
  • Compulsive gambling: An uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble

Signs and symptoms of problem gambling

It’s also important to remember that no one turns into a problem gambler overnightAs with all addictions, problem gambling is a progressive disorder. The problem gambler will typically experience a series of stages, each with its own warning signs. Some of the initial signs and symptoms could include:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning gambling activities and how to get more money
  • Needing to gamble with increased amounts of money to get the same thrill
  • Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems and relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Chasing losses – trying to get back lost money by gambling more
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Risking or losing important relationships, job, school or work opportunities because of gambling
  • Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away

Most casual gamblers can stop when they’re losing or set a limit on how much they’re willing to lose. Problem gamblers, however, will keep playing to recover their money. In time, this pattern becomes increasingly destructive, with some people turning to theft and fraud to get the money they need to gamble. 

Problem gamblers often experience periods of remission — a length of time when they gamble less or not at all. Without proper treatment, though, remission usually doesn’t last long

Several treatment options are available

Offering help to people with a gambling problem can be challenging. Many problem gamblers struggle to admit they have a problem. Yet, a major component of treatment is admitting and also accepting that you have a problem with gambling. 

It’s also important that a person experiencing problems with gambling seek therapy or treatment of their own volition. If family members or employers pressure someone to get help, there’s a high chance they’ll resist. Problem gamblers must understand that treatment can help them regain a sense of control, and even help revive damaged relationships or finances. 

Beyond self-exclusion programs, there are three main ways to treat problem gambling.

  • Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful process that teaches skills to reduce gambling urges; it focuses on identifying unhealthy, negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones. 
  • Medication: Anti-depressants and mood stabilizers can help alleviate problems associated with problem gambling, including bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety. 
  • Self-help groups: Talking to other people who have a gambling problem can be a productive part of treatment and includes self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, as well as other resources. 

Maryland’s Voluntary Exclusion Program and additional resources

The MLGCA’s top priority is to educate all Maryland residents on the resources available for individuals who have gambling problems. 

The Maryland Alliance for Responsible Gambling website is where you can find more information about voluntary exclusion. The agency’s program director can be reached by calling 410-230-8798 or by emailing [email protected]

Several additional resources are also available to Marylanders concerned about problem gambling:

  • Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling
  • The Maryland Coalition of Families 
  • Maryland Council on Problem Gambling
  • National Council on Problem Gambling
  • Gambler’s Anonymous International Maryland Hotline
  • Gam-Anon Family Group 

Individuals can call the 24-hour Maryland Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800 426-2537 to get advice and get connected with a number of resources they might need, from counseling and peer support to self-help and support groups.

All Maryland residents qualify for free problem gambling treatment. Anyone seeking assistance need only call the helpline.

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Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is an international journalist with a special interest in sports writing. He is a Poli-Sci graduate of Ohio University and holds an A.A.S in Journalism. He has worked in a number of countries and has extensive experience in the United Nations as well as other regional, national and international organizations. Rashid lives and writes out of Denver, Colorado.

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