If I gamble a lot, does it make me a gambling addict?

PHOTO: If I gamble a lot, does it make me a gambling addict?

Most Singaporeans engage in one form of gambling or another, whether it be buying lottery tickets, a trip to the casino or a casual game of mahjong.

While there is no data that defines a specific number of problem gamblers in Singapore, a 2008 MCYS study estimated that out of 100 people, one to two per cent will become problem gamblers. 

Yet while being equally life-wrecking as alcohol or drug addictions, the problem with gambling addiction is that there are no physical symptoms of problem gambling.

According to Changi General Hospital, the condition often lays dormant till it becomes too glaring to cover up.

While there are certain 'symptoms' which characterises a problem gambler, experts say it is in reality almost impossible to spot a gambling addict from afar.

Dr Lui Yit Shiang, Registrar, Psychological Medicine, Changi General Hospital, told YourHealth that more often that not, the onus is on the closer family members or friends to sense a change in the person and his routine. Such changes include:

>> Increasingly having time away from family or spending less time with children, spouses, or partners;
>>  Unreasonable absenteeism from work or his inability to fulfil his usual role obligations at work or home;
>>  Appearing preoccupied all the time or being distractible as the person's mind is constantly on chasing back losses or returning to the site for that last bet or game;
>>  Change in temper as the sense of irritability seeps in as a response to continual nagging or lack of opportunities to return to gambling; and
>>  Having activities centering around betting centres and computers or casinos, or involving the family to get on cruises, or having a day out at integrated resorts with the sole aim of returning to gamble."

However, for a definitive answer, a clinical diagnosis is required to determine that, Dr Lui said.

There are psychometric rating scales to guide in the screening and differentiation between recreational (or social) gamers versus the problem and pathological gamblers, he added.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) assists by providing a criterion approach and the checklist items are based on the principle of the addiction model, such as whether you are constantly thinking about returning to the gambling activity and a total neglect of the other activities and loved ones.

Or another criterion is whether you feel a constant urge to retrieve the loss and think you are going to magically win all your losses back - which is unlikely given that gambling is a game of probability.

There is also the element of ignoring the consequences of gambling.

This entails the gambler continuing to gamble even in the midst of overwhelming debts and suffering of loved ones. Or if the person needs to gamble to achieve self-satisfaction. When it reaches this stage of loss of control, there is no telling what extremes the person can get up to to support the habit, for example, breaking the law or betraying the trust of loved ones.