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When Sports Betting (And All Gambling) Becomes Unhealthy

Sports betting, like all forms of gambling, can be a totally harmless bit of fun that may even bring in a few dollars in winnings or it can be a horribly destructive force for ill that can destroy your finances, your relationships, your reputation, even your health.

How do you tell, though, whether your own sports betting activities are harmless and fun or utterly devastating? Worse, because the first kind can quickly morph into the second, it can be easy to lose track of where you stand.

What follows is a simple guide to determining whether your sports betting hobby has become an unhealthy sports betting addiction: 

 

You’re an addict when…

The following are signs that you either have a problem with sports betting or are developing one. Some of these are relatively harmless on their own and some are signs of “merely” being an irresponsible gambler, but if a number of these apply to you and certainly if all apply to you, it’s time to get help. Especially in the case of the first two points.

 

    • You spend more money on it than you know you should. Though you should always stick to a budget, it’s more of a problem when you start dipping into your savings or money set aside for basic expenses, and it can quickly become a financial catastrophe if you start gambling on credit.

    • You spend more time on it than you should. Sports betting in and of itself can be a perfectly respectable way to have some fun and become more invested in the games and matches you watch, but when it starts cutting into your relationships or starts to undermine your work and basic self-care, it has become, at the very least, a problematic obsession. If you’re also hiding it from your family, it’s especially worrying.

    • You’re using sports betting as an escape. We all enjoy our hobbies precisely because they take us away from the difficulties of our life, but there is a thin line with perfectly healthy escapism and making your mental health and happiness entirely dependent on it.

  • You’re playing primarily for money. This might seem a strange point considering that the whole point of betting on a sport is to make money, but there’s a subtle but important difference between you’re betting primarily to make money or to have some fun while possibly making money on the side. Not that every professional gambler or sports bettor is addicted, but the more value you place in winning at sports betting, the more at risk you are of letting it overtake your life.

  • You’re no longer primarily playing for fun but for profit. Building on the previous point, it’s one thing if you set out to gamble on sports events as a serious way to make money – as a job or even as a serious supplement to your job – but it’s another if you started off just wanting to bet on sports for fun and suddenly finding yourself treating it as a job with no conscious decision to do so.  

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What To Do About It

There are two approaches that we can take here.

The first of these is to prevent sports betting from becoming an addiction in the first place.

 There are two things that everyone who indulges in sports betting should always do. First, don’t keep how much you’re spending on it from your significant other or others who might need to know you’re doing it. Second, practice responsible gambling by setting a budget and sticking to it, never betting on credit, never using your savings on any bet. Also, if you are, say, a drug addict or an alcoholic, you’re probably prone to addiction so you should probably avoid anything as “triggering” as gambling.

The second is what to do once you’re in the throes of the addiction or on your way to becoming addicted. 

The hardest but arguably most important thing to do is to admit you have a problem and seek help. Whether through a personal psychiatrist or psychologist who has some training in dealing with addiction or through groups like Gamblers Anonymous that are really available worldwide. 

Perhaps equally important is that you don’t try to handle it by yourself, even when enlisting the help of professionals. Tell at least one person who’s intimately involved in your life what you’re dealing with and ask them to help you by taking away your credit card or monitoring your online behavior. This is usually your significant other, but it can be another family member or a friend.  

Most simply, just be as honest as you can with yourself about your sports betting hobby. Is it bringing joy to your life or extra stress? Is it badly impacting your health, your mental health, your relationships, your sex life, or your job? Is it something you do for fun on the side or has it taken over your entire life? If any of these are true, understand that you have a problem, probably even a mental illness, and the only way to properly deal with it is not to be shamed by it but to understand that like any illness, it needs to be treated before there’s no coming back from it.

No hobby is worth that.

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