Betting on the World Cup? Tips for Controlling Online Sports Gambling.

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As mobile and internet sports betting spreads nationally, it provides greater opportunity and convenience to bet on your favorite teams. But online sports betting also carries greater risks for your mental health and bank account.

In general, online sports bettors seem to make larger bets and therefore have larger losses compared to in-person bettors. Overindulging in online and mobile sports betting can have a variety of adverse effects, including anxiety and depression, reduced work productivity, financial difficulties and strained relationships.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on commercial sports betting in 2018, making it legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia

At the Maryland Center of Excellence in Problem Gambling, which I run, I hear from many people struggling with gambling addiction.

A student lost all his money, maxed out his credit card and went broke. He always thought he would make a big profit. He kept telling himself that it wasn’t a problem because he wasn’t completely in debt yet, but he was close to financial ruin. He finally had to tell his parents what he had done.

Another gambler said he had a big win early in life and found that it made him think another big win was around the corner. He tried to chase his losses and vowed that if he ever broke even, he would quit. That day never came. At one point, he became suicidal and sought help through Gamblers Anonymous.

In the United States, 1 to 6 percent of adults have a gambling disorder, according to most studies. Popular forms of gambling include casino gambling, electronic gambling and slot machines, lottery tickets, horse racing, dog racing, bingo, private games, sports betting, fantasy sports and internet gaming.

Sports betting has grown in popularity and tends to attract a younger, predominantly male demographic. Most states now have some form of legalized sports betting, and sports betting is moving quickly to make gambling available from your phone. In Maryland, sports betting went online last week. Sports betting is also moving straight to the stadiums. The most recent gambling expansion in Maryland, for example, allows for the installation of gambling terminals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field.

Is it possible to enjoy the excitement of betting on your favorite World Cup match and avoid the pitfalls of gambling addiction? Watch for these signs that gambling is becoming a problem:

Are you busy gambling?

A man in his 20s, busy with gambling, contacted our help center. After graduating from college, he had to look for a job. Instead, he was busy placing new bets and monitoring the games.

If you think about gambling all day and can’t wait to place bets online, you are gambling. Constantly planning gambling activities and focusing on getting more money to gamble are signs that gambling is having a negative impact on your daily life.

Are you experiencing gambling withdrawal symptoms?

Just like people with chemical addictions, those suffering from gambling disorder can go through severe withdrawal. A young recovering athlete was trying to abstain from gambling. But as his friends bet on sporting events, it made him anxious and irritable.

Do you experience withdrawal when you stop gambling? Withdrawal symptoms can create both emotional symptoms such as irritability and depression, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating, headaches, racing heart and muscle tension.

Are you hiding your gambling activity?

A man in his 30s had lost all his savings and was constantly trying to borrow money. His lies and concealment of his gambling activities destroyed many of his relationships with family and friends. If you have a gambling problem, you can try to cover up your gambling by hiding receipts or bank statements. You may lie about where you are going to avoid questioning or being accused of gambling.

If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, the key is to know that help is out there and readily available right now.

How to find gambling addiction counseling and treatment

Some countries provide free counseling and treatment. You can call the National Helpline for advice and support: 1-800-522-4700. You can also go online to the National Problem Gambling Council. In Maryland, the helpline [1-800-GAMBLER] provides easy access to peer recovery support professionals and treatment providers. Text and chat services are also available. Peers are people with experience of gambling addiction who can support those struggling to get the help they need. Help is available through the 24/7 helpline.

If contacting help is difficult, here are some strategies to protect yourself:

Visualize the negative impact of gambling. Imagine what could happen if you gave in to gambling. Think about how you would feel after losing all your money and letting yourself and those you care about down. It takes tremendous strength and courage to accept this and kick the habit and rebuild your life.

Connect with people. When the urge to gamble strikes, consider calling or meeting a trusted family member or friend or going to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting to avoid isolation. This can help you deal with your emotions and get help from others.

Talk about it. You can fight the urge to gamble through telling yourself that you will wait five minutes, 15 minutes or an hour will help slow down the urge to gamble and make it easier to resist. Mindfulness and imagery desensitization, a technique that uses imagery to help people with specific types of disorders with impulse control elements, are key to reducing maladaptive coping strategies such as avoidance, wishful thinking, social withdrawal, and self-criticism. For example, instead of imagining yourself making another bet on the game, you would visualize the time you will spend with family.

Make an alternate plan. Gambling can be a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions, unwind or socialize. But there are healthier and more effective ways to manage your mood and relieve boredom. Try another activity, such as watching a movie or doing relaxation exercises, to avoid the urge to gamble.

Mary Drexler, MSW, is the director of the Maryland Center of Excellence in Problem Gambling, a program of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The Center promotes healthy and informed choices regarding gambling and problem gambling.

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