Gamblers risk more than money, they risk becoming addicted

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Gamblers risk more than money, they risk becoming addicted


Addiction to gambling is nowadays seen by many as a form of mental disease. It’s also one major factor in the sudden success of the slot-machine chain Sea Story, whose owners made over 100 billion won ($104.2 million) in net profits in only two years.
A number of mental patients say they lost everything ― their families, jobs, money and health ― once they became addicted to Sea Story’s slot machines. But it’s not only the machines that are addicting gamblers: There’s horse racing, boat racing, bike racing, a casino in Jeongseon, Gangwon province and Internet Go-stop, based on a Japanese card game.
“Just because you’re fond of gambling doesn’t mean you’re addicted to gambling,” said Shin Young-cheol, a psychologist at Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center. “Gambling addiction is a psychological disease that you can’t shake, just like alcoholism or drug addiction.” The criteria to diagnose whether you’re addicted to gambling are tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. A gambling addict spends more time on gambling and with increasingly larger stakes because he wants to feel as good as he did when he first started. It’s very similar to an alcoholic, who never knows when to stop drinking.
Gambling addicts also feel uneasy and anxious, and tend to lack concentration.
“The central nerve secretes pleasure chemicals when it gets stimulated by a big win, sex or a hole-in-one in golf, and it continually seeks stronger stimulation,” said Kim Dae-jin, psychologist at the Holy Family Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea. “If the neurotransmitters in brain circuits, including dopamine, are imbalanced, one can become addicted to gambling.” This, he said, means gambling addiction is not simply a matter of choice.
Mr. Kim also said that people who are introspective, quiet and escapist tend to have the strongest addiction to gambling. Such people use gambling as a temporary hideout and a medicine to heal depression.

Though gambling addiction can be helped, a complete recovery is never guaranteed because gambling is still legal and hence available, at least in limited forms. Sources such as Internet card games are simply too easy to access. A gambling addict needs only go back to the track once to relapse.
“The most important thing in treating gambling addiction is, of course, one’s determination to stop gambling,” said Ban Geon-ho, a psychologist at Kyung Hee University Medical Center. “But it’s not everything. You can’t kick the habit merely through willpower. You have to see a doctor.”
Hospitals usually use cognitive behavioral therapy to change a gambler’s behavior and drug therapy to treat depression and desire.
Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center’s Gambling Addiction Clinic ( holds an eight-week group therapy program. Patients meet once a week. Gamblers Anonymous ( was established in 1984 in Korea and is another method for treating addiction, by having gambling addicts and recovered gamblers talk about their experiences.

Do you have a gambling problem?

1. Do all your plans and activities revolve around gambling?
2. Have you felt the need to gamble with increased sums to produce the same level of excitement?
3. Have you been restless or irritated when attempting to cut down or stop gambling?
4. Have you gambled to escape from problems or relieve an undesired mood such as helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?
5. After losing money gambling, do you often return to try to win it back, chasing your losses?
6. Have you lied about your gambling or its consequences?
7. Have you committed illegal acts to finance your gambling?
8. Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of gambling?
9. Have you relied on a “bailout” or money from others to relieve a desperate gambling-related financial situation?
10. Have you made repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling?
If you answered yes to five or more questions, see a doctor.
Source: American Psychiatric Association

by Park Tae-kyun
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