Gambling Addiction: COVID-19 Is a Recipe for Disaster
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started, people have been suffering from negative emotions: everything from loneliness, boredom, and frustration to fear and despair. Even people who like to spend most of their time in solitude are forcibly isolated from their families and friends, cut off from companionship and support. Needless to say, these are uncertain and unprecedented times in recent history.
For those people who depend on the support of like-minded people to handle their feelings, the absence of face-to-face time can spiral into self-destructive ways and life-threatening consequences.
This is the situation for people who suffer from addiction, including gambling addiction. Many of these people have sought gambling addiction help through rehabilitation and have been successful in achieving a lifestyle free from compulsion. Some have relied on behavioural therapy for years or have maintained stability in their lives with the help of 12-step programs like Gamblers Anonymous. However, these are ongoing addiction treatment methods. They require opportunities for addicts, mental health professionals, and other addicts to get together and share their experiences.
With coronavirus, the biggest lockdown gambling problem is that all of this support abruptly ended. The people who were most at risk were forced to cope with a new health issue that threatens to undo everything they have worked so hard to achieve.
The UK Gambling Commission has found that one in five people who suffer from problem gambling entertain ideas of suicide, particularly because they rack up a huge amount of gambling debt. A lot of people who gamble compulsively do kill themselves out of total despair. Additionally, there are some unscrupulous gambling sites that actively encourage people to ditch their regular livelihoods in favor of earning money through gambling and do not intervene even when they see the damage they are wreaking.
Gambling Addiction: Coronavirus is Making Gambling Go Online
Thanks to the pandemic, major aspects of everyday life are moving online. Jobs, shopping, eating, and socialising are all adapting to the new environment. For most industries, this is not a bad thing at all. It indicates that we have enough technology to adapt to the digital age and it is a sign that the industry can withstand tumultuous changes.
But this change can be disastrous during coronavirus, as gambling addiction will spur people to find alternative avenues for gambling to fuel their destructive habits. COVID-19 has forced horse racing, football, basketball, and other sports cancellation policies, while it also pulled down the shutters on physical casinos.
A lot of people may think that without sports and casinos there is no betting. But people who gamble regularly say they are doing it just as often, if not even more frequently. In the absence of horse racing and football, which account for 75% of the UK’s sports betting market, people are looking at other events and contests to gamble on.
Since the start of the coronavirus, online betting has risen in popularity. Gambling websites are hosts to virtual sports and online casinos, but they play with real money and carry an increased risk of addiction. Bookmakers may be closed, but the internet provides instant access to poker tables, roulette wheels, slot machines, and sports betting.
Bet365, often called the world’s favorite site for betting, is offering its customers odds to bet on a virtual football match between Manchester Blues and Chelsea Pensioners. People are betting on these fictional games to get the adrenaline rush they used to get at physical betting tables. The games may be virtual, but for gambling addicts, the consequences are all too real.
To fuel a gambling addiction, UK punters have no shortage of online options. Overall, UK gambling levels are rising, not falling.
Here are some numbers. About 25% of people who bet once a week say they are still doing so. Another 28% say they have increased their activity and 11% say they are gambling a lot more than usual since lockdown. About 41% of people who gamble say they have opened new betting accounts since the pandemic outbreak. More than one-third of surveyed gamblers say they are spending too much on gambling or are on the cusp of developing an addiction.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, 9.2% of people who play online games like slots, roulette, and virtual sports are likely to develop betting issues.
Because of the quarantine, gambling addiction is spreading through more avenues. Advances in technology mean betting forms can be used anywhere, anytime. The bottom line is that lockdown has been disastrous for people who are struggling with gambling addiction. A lot of it has to do with boredom and a lack of televised sports to provide entertainment. Add a lack of support from like-minded people, plus money freed up from mortgage holidays, and addiction can grow quickly – and with it, an increased risk for people with compulsive gambling habits.
Advertising of Online Gambling Amidst Coronavirus
During lockdown, gambling addiction has been further fuelled by advertising from online casinos and gambling sites. These ads are everywhere online. According to a Stirling University research project, 96% of people aged between 11 and 24 years are likely to have been exposed to gambling ads during the pandemic and resultant quarantine. The industry has set its sights on a new generation of online gamblers. Predictably, some of them will prove to be problem gamblers.
According to some anecdotal gambling addiction stories, people who were recovering from gambling addiction are going back to gambling after seeing ads on TV. Additionally, a research report published by YouGov concludes that targeted ads are being pushed toward 1.4 million people who already suffer from gambling compulsions and addiction. According to statistics on gambling addiction, about 15% of bettors have shown an increased interest in gambling since the lockdown first took effect and have become “engaged gamblers” who are the most at risk of developing a gambling addiction problem.
Causes of Gambling Addiction
People who develop a gambling problem are not weak, irresponsible, or selfish. Gambling is highly addictive because the possibility of high rewards can trigger a rush of dopamine in the brain. These hormones often fill the void left in us by loss, grief, and other emotions. Each time you gamble, your brain becomes conditioned to the stimulation and requires a greater stimulus to release the dopamine. This leads to higher-stakes gambling.
Some people are at a greater risk of gambling addiction for various reasons. The risk factors include:
- Mental health disorders like substance abuse, anxiety, and depression.
- Personality disorders like ADHD, OCD, and bipolarism.
- People who are in their teens up to middle age are most at risk; however, problem gambling can also occur in individuals of advanced age.
- Signs of gambling addiction are more often seen in men than in women. Women are more likely to become addicted to gambling later in life and develop the compulsive habit more quickly than men. However, in recent years this disparity is lessening as both men and women succumb to gambling addiction.
- People who see family and friends gambling may be more likely to develop a gambling addiction.
- Certain medications used to treat neurodegenerative brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease may result in compulsive behavior like reckless gambling.
- People who are highly competitive, ambitious, driven, or easily bored may also be at increased risk of compulsive gambling in quarantine.
- People who suffer from chronic clinical depression, especially during these financially tumultuous times, are more at risk of turning to gambling, as they may see gambling websites as an opportunity to earn much-needed money despite the fact that gambling is unlikely to make any gambler’s financial situation better.
People are always at risk of gambling addiction, lockdown or no lockdown. But social isolation has made the threat more serious than ever. In spite of casino closures and the cancellation of sporting events, technology has made gambling more accessible than ever. It is important that the government, gambling companies, and people who like to gamble be aware of what causes gambling addiction, what the addiction symptoms are, and how we can enjoy gambling responsibly without getting pulled into addiction.