For thousands of people across the country, gambling is a fun, occasional pastime they enjoy solo or with friends. Many people consider betting on a big sports game, visiting the racetrack, or circling around a poker table a recreational activity much the same as catching a concert or playing a round of golf.
Most recreational activities don’t come with the risk of developing into a serious addiction.
When gambling is used as a recreational activity, where everyone plays for entertainment and doesn’t risk more than they can afford, the players can enjoy a good time, and the consequences of the game are short-lived. But unfortunately, for some players, what started out as a pastime with friends can slowly grow into a challenging habit.
Even a little gambling can become a big problem.
You don’t have to be a weekly or daily gambler to experience some of the negative effects of gambling. One study found that gambling as infrequently as five times per year is enough to put individuals at risk for a host of medical problems—leading to higher healthcare costs and more medical care needs.
Here are some of the biggest health problems and unhealthy habits that tend to accompany gambling:
Drinking 5+ servings of caffeine per day
Watching 20 or more hours of TV per week
Having a poorer self-perception of your health
Postponing medical care because of financial problems
Visiting the emergency room more often
Those aren’t the only risks. Those who gamble 5x or more per year are more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension, struggle with their weight, abuse alcohol, be nicotine dependent, and experience mood or anxiety disorders.
Weighing the costs and benefits of occasional gambling.
If you have questions about whether your gambling has become a bigger problem in your life, the certified professionals of the Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program have a quick exercise that can help you figure out if your gambling is harming you.
Start by weighing the costs and benefits of your go-to gambling activity, such as playing fantasy football with friends. Here’s an example:
It can be relaxing.
You get to enjoy time with friends.
You can win money.
You’re out of the house for the night.
You may drink more than you want to or know you should.
You may smoke more than you normally do.
You can lose money.
You’ll miss your kid’s bedtime or activities.
Your spouse could be frustrated if you come home intoxicated or with less money than you left with.
You may feel shame or embarrassment if you owe your friends money or have to borrow money to cover your debts.
Compare your two lists. Is one heavier than the other? Are there positive benefits you can’t get from other activities, or costs that outweigh them?
This list is one example of weighing the costs and benefits of gambling during a football game. Your own costs and benefits will be unique. But if the costs significantly exceed the benefits on your list, it’s time to see your gambling for what it is - an addiction in the making. The sooner you make the necessary changes, the sooner you stop letting yourself get harmed by gambling.
When you’re ready to change, we can help. When you work with an NPGAP-certified problem gambling professional, you’ll have access to the resources and support you need to build habits you’re proud of. Here in Nebraska, this game-changing service is free and confidential for you or a loved one.
Your first move is to call the free, confidential helpline at 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344. Justin Antons, a trained professional in problem gambling will answer your call in person. The two of you can take it from there.