By Melissa Riddle-Chalos
When the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting in 2018, it was as if Pandora’s box opened, giving millions of American sports fans instant and legal access to gambling. By 2021, 25 states would give it the green light.
No wonder online sports betting is exploding. Bloomberg reports that on average, from June 2018 to October 2021, monthly sports betting numbers increased twentyfold, from $320 million to $7 billion a month.
With a few clicks on sports betting apps like DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM, you can gamble and lose huge sums of money without even leaving your living room. Entertainment companies and professional sports leagues now have direct partnerships with gambling companies. Sports-loving celebrities sell it. Betting lines crawl across the bottom of our screens during games. Even as many states are still grappling with its legality, sports betting is becoming as commonplace as watching sports.
It seems harmless enough: Enthusiastic sports fans — who already bet casually in fantasy leagues and office pools — just expand their fandom and the entertainment value of sports by doing a little online sports betting. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, causing Americans to hunker down in their homes, a perfect storm is brewing.
The Problem with Sports Betting
The isolation many Americans are feeling due to the pandemic has adversely affected our collective mental health in many ways. Here are just a few:
- Young adults are experiencing a dramatic increase in anxiety or depressive disorder, up 30% since 2019, according to a KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) Health Tracking poll.
- Drug overdoses are up 28.5% year over year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
- Suicide attempts, especially among adolescents ages 12 to 17, increased by 22.3%, according to the CDC.
As we are all challenged by the realities of this new normal, it’s easy to overlook activities that seem harmless. Gambling has never had the attention that other addictive behaviors like drug and alcohol usage has. It’s not as physically destructive or socially visible. And while the vast majority of people who gamble do so occasionally and harmlessly, for those who are predisposed to addictive or compulsive behaviors or simply financially unaware, the risk is great.
While the vast majority of people who gamble do so occasionally and harmlessly, for those who are predisposed to addictive or compulsive behaviors or simply financially unaware, the risk is great.
With the advent of legal sports betting, a gambling addiction is as accessible as pornography; it’s on your smartphone 24/7, completely private and easily hidden. In fact, a recent survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) found that sports betting presents a greater risk of developing a gambling problem, and the younger the sports better, the higher the risk of addiction. As sports betting explodes, and the pandemic continues, gambling hotlines across the country are seeing a dramatic increase in calls and desperation.
Risking More Than Money
It almost goes without saying that gambling of any kind can easily spin out of control, wreaking financial havoc within a very short amount of time. With online sports betting in particular, it’s especially hazardous because it seems harmless: a $20 bet here, a $50 bet there, and it’s no big deal. But that’s the way gambling works. Gambling is a hidden addiction where money is the drug of choice as small bets become more frequent, then larger, ongoing debts pile up, and desperation sets in. Once you’re caught in that trap, it’s easy to become blind to the seriousness of your money issues and how out of control your gambling problem is becoming. This is how addiction begins.
The risks of sports betting to adolescents and young adults may even be greater in some ways, given that young people often feel more invincible, act more impulsively, and take more chances. They are also more likely to progress from casual betting to problem gambling faster.
A study from Neuropharmacology shared by ScienceDaily found that individuals with a “strong desire for new experiences and a willingness to take risks to be stimulated were more prone to developing behavior that reflects human addiction.”
Compulsive gambling often arrives with or leads to co-occurring issues that compound the potential for addiction, including:
- Drinking problems
People who are living for the wager and chasing the high of the win/payoff often drink to cope with the financial and emotional problems that come with getting in too deep.
- Mental health problems
If sports betting becomes excessive, the emotional toll is exponentially higher than you might think. Debt and desperation mount, increasing stress, anxiety, and depression in a vicious cycle.
Compulsive, uncontrolled sports betting can also lead to money issues, the loss of employment, the loss of relationships, and the loss of physical health. And should gambling losses lead you to consider illegal ways to get more money, you may even suffer the loss of freedom.
How to Recognize a Problem
So how do you know if your sports betting is getting out of hand? Lifehack offers these three telltale signs:
- Everything takes a back seat to the bet: your job, school, family, friends, reputation, and health.
- Chasing the high of the payoff becomes not only involuntary, but what makes you feel “normal.”
- You have lied, stolen, or borrowed money you can’t possibly repay, or neglected bills or obligations to have money for betting.
A gambling problem or disorder is not a sign of weakness, a moral failure, or a character flaw. If you have tried to cut back without success and are constantly chasing losses and dealing with the fallout in your work life and relationships, you can change the game.
You may feel alone or ashamed of where gambling has taken you, but it can happen to anyone. It is a mental health condition, and there is help.
You may feel alone or ashamed of where gambling has taken you, but it can happen to anyone. It is a mental health condition, and there is help. At The Meadows Texas, we offer hope and healing for a wide range of mental health conditions and addictive behaviors alongside drug or alcohol addiction. We are here for you 24/7, so reach out today to learn more.