Expert Advice: How to place sports bets without developing a gambling addiction
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from psychiatrist, Sunny Aslam, MD, from Upstate Medical University. How can someone enjoy mobile sports betting without developing a gambling addiction?
Sunny Aslam, MD: One of the ways I think about gambling is analogous to alcohol, that many people can have a glass of wine or go out to a bar, and it doesn't cause them any distress at all. They do this in groups, or as a couple, with friends. It's a social event. They set limits around their drinking, and they do it responsibly with no harms at all. But there are a small group of people with alcohol, just like with gambling, who will be harmed by their repeated use.
Unfortunately, the difficulty is, the industry is built against you. The industry knows where its profit centers are, and those are in people with other addiction and mood disorders. People who are more vulnerable, people who already have an addiction, who already have a psychiatric disorder; they're particularly vulnerable. And they're targeted by these companies.
Gambling use disorder was moved under the category from impulsive disorders to be treated with substance use disorders, with other addictions, essentially, because there's increasing recognition of the chemistry in the brain, the wiring in the brain, is virtually identical to what happens with, for example, you inhale a cigarette, it activates the seeking system in the brain, and it seems to be virtually indistinguishable for those with gambling use disorder.
There's a wide range of problems associated with gambling use disorder. Fifty percent of people with gambling use disorder have a mood disorder, such as major depression, 40% can have an anxiety disorder, 32% have suicidal thinking, and half of those will actually attempt suicide. Once you have become addicted to gambling, there's repeated harm. That part of the brain appears to be changed for people. And it is something that will be with them forever.
About half of people with gambling use disorder have an alcohol or a tobacco addiction as well, or both. We know those are risk factors. Being young and male is a risk factor, as well, for gambling disorder. So there's a number of these risk factors that people should keep in mind before they enter into online betting or head to the casino.
The two different paths we hear about from patients and that have been studied, particularly around what happens in the brain, is gambling for a rush or gambling for an escape. And online, it can be both. It taps into both those areas. Our concern with online betting is that there's virtual anonymity, and the accessibility is around the clock.
But there are ways to have an accountability partner. Don't do this alone. Set a limit around how much time and how much money you'd like to spend. And then if you notice you're going over those limits, maybe it's time to ask for help. And there's a number of ways of getting help. That can mean coming to the addiction medicine clinic for a consultation or going to a 12-step group -- gamblers Anonymous is very popular -- and there's good evidence that 12-steps work.
It's important to recognize your risks. Be aware. Know that simply being honest with those around you, or maybe even bringing someone along with you -- a family member, a friend -- can help be a protective layer to an industry that is set up to prey on vulnerabilities you might have toward developing gambling disorder.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to Dr. Sunny Aslam from Upstate Medical University.