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As mobile and internet sports betting is rolled out nationally, it offers more options and convenience to bet on your favorite teams. But online sports betting also poses greater risks to your mental health and bank account.
In general, online sports bettors seem to place larger bets and therefore incur larger losses compared to in-person bettors. Overindulgence in online and mobile sports betting can have several adverse consequences, including anxiety and depression, reduced work productivity, financial problems and strained relationships.
The Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on commercial sports betting in 2018, making it legal in 32 states and D.C.
At the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, which I direct, I hear from many people who struggle with gambling addiction.
A student lost all his money, used his credit card and went bankrupt. He always thought he would win big. He told himself that he had no problem because he was not yet fully in debt, but that he was close to financial ruin. In the end, he had to tell his parents what he had done.
Another gambler said he had a big win early in life and found it made him think another big win was on the way. He tried to chase his losses and vowed he would quit if he ever broke even. That day never came. At one point, he became suicidal and sought help through Gamblers Anonymous.
In the United States, according to most studies, 1 to 6 percent of adults have a gambling disorder. Popular forms of gambling include casino gambling, electronic gambling and slot machines, lottery tickets, horse racing, dog racing, bingo, private games, sports betting, fantasy sports and internet games.
Sports betting has become increasingly popular and attracts a younger, mainly male target group. Most states already have some form of legalized sports betting, and sportsbooks are making rapid strides in making gambling accessible from your phone. In Maryland, sports betting went online last week. Sports betting is also heading straight into the stadiums. For example, Maryland’s latest gambling expansion allows gambling terminals to be installed in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field.
Is it possible to enjoy the excitement of betting on your favorite World Cup match and avoid the pitfalls of gambling addiction? Watch for these signs that gambling is becoming a problem:
Are you gambling?
A man in his early twenties who was into gambling contacted our center for help. After he graduated from college, he would be looking for a job. Instead, he was busy placing new bets and monitoring games.
If you think about gambling all day long and can’t wait to place bets online, you will become preoccupied with gambling. Constantly planning gambling activities and being focused on getting more money to gamble are signs that gambling is having a negative impact on your daily life.
Do you have withdrawal symptoms from gambling?
Like people with chemical addictions, people with gambling disorders can go through severe withdrawal symptoms. A young sports gambler in recovery tried to refrain from gambling. But with his friends betting on sporting events, it made him anxious and irritable.
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop gambling? Withdrawal symptoms can cause emotional symptoms such as irritability and depression as well as physical symptoms such as sweating, headache, palpitations and muscle tension.
Do you hide your gambling activities?
A man in his thirties had lost all his savings and was constantly trying to borrow money. His lies and concealment of his gambling had destroyed many of his relationships with family and friends. If you have a gambling problem, you can try to hide your gambling by hiding receipts or bank statements. You can lie about where you are going to avoid being questioned or accused of gambling.
If you’re struggling with a gambling addiction, it’s important to know that help is available and easily accessible at a moment’s notice.
How to find advice and treatment for gambling addiction
Some states offer free counseling and treatment. You can call the National Helpline for advice and support: 1-800-522-4700. You can also visit the National Council on Problem Gambling online. In Maryland, the helpline [1-800-GAMBLER] provides easy access to recovery support specialists and practitioners. Text and chat services are also available. Peers are people with experience of gambling addiction who can support those struggling with the problem to get the help they need. Help is available 24/7 via the Helpline.
If reaching out for help is difficult, here are some strategies to keep yourself safe:
Visualize the negative impact of gambling. Imagine what could happen if you give in to gambling. Think about how you will feel after losing all your money and letting down on yourself and those you care about. It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit this and break the habit and rebuild your life.
Connect with people. When a gambling addiction strikes, consider calling or meeting a trusted family member or friend or going to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting to avoid isolation. This can help you deal with your emotions and get help from others.
Talk about it. You can fight the urge to gamble by telling yourself that you will wait five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour, which will help slow down the urge to gamble and make it easier to resist. Mindfulness and imaginary desensitization, a technique that uses imagery to help people with specific types of disorders with elements of impulse control, are key to reducing maladaptive coping strategies such as avoidance, wishful thinking, social withdrawal, and self-criticism. For example, instead of imagining placing another bet on the line, visualize time spent with family.
Make an alternative plan. Gambling can be a way to calm down unpleasant emotions, relax or have a chat. But there are healthier and more effective ways to manage your mood and beat boredom. Try another activity such as watching a movie or doing relaxation exercises to avoid the urge to gamble.
Mary Drexler, MSW, is the director of the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, a program of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The center promotes healthy and informed choices regarding gambling and problem gambling.
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