Going off to college provides young adults with the opportunity to try many new things that would probably be considered dangerous or stupid by their parents (even though they did exactly the same things when they were in college).
While your days are no doubt spent fueling your repository of knowledge within the vaunted halls of learning, any time not devoted to study is more likely spent filling your gullet with alcohol at a frat party. And now that you’re of age (and happily removed from the clutches of your over-protective parents) you can also buy cigarettes, stay out all night, and participate in that most adult of games: gambling. With the advent of online poker, you can even do it from the relative comfort of your dorm room. But how can you tell when your fun has turned into an addiction? And what can you do to stop it?
The first thing to be aware of is the warning signs to watch for if you think you’ve gone beyond the hobby stage with your gambling and wandered into more dangerous waters. So just for starters, you should monitor you money situation. College students are notoriously shy of funds; what with tuition, books, and food to worry about, you rarely have cash on hand for extras. So if you find that you’re putting every last dime into your online poker account, spending your leftover lunch money on lottery tickets, and taking pricy cash advances on your credit card to go to the casino every weekend, it’s a pretty good bet (no pun intended) that you’ve strayed into addiction territory.
You may also notice other, less quantifiable changes, such as anxiety, depression, or mood swings when you are unable to play; neglecting your studies or ditching class; lying to friends and family about the frequency of your gambling or how much you spend; avoiding your friends or engaging less in other activities that you used to enjoy; and of course, changes in health due to stress, insomnia, and other common side effects of addiction.
So what should you do if you find yourself (or someone else) embroiled in an addiction to gambling? The first step, as with all forms of addiction, is to admit that you have a problem. Most college students will be tempted to utter excuses like, “I can quit any time I want – I just don’t want to.” Well, it’s time to put that theory to the test. Set yourself a reasonable amount of time to stay away from any and all types of gambling (a semester, for example) and see how it goes. If you go the whole time without a second thought for gambling, you probably aren’t an addict. If you make it, but just by the skin of your teeth, or if you can’t get to the end of your time limit without hitting the tables or logging in to your online account, then it’s time to admit you have a problem.
Once you have taken this crucial first step, you need to seek some outside help, such as gamblers anonymous. It is very unlikely that you can kick the habit on your own; if anyone could do it, support groups wouldn’t exist. Like all addictions, it can be beat before it ruins your life (which has barely begun, by the way). But if you neglect to take the steps necessary to face and overcome your gambling addiction, don’t be surprised if you find yourself facing financial ruin before you even get your diploma.
Leon Harris writes for Online Poker, one of the best US poker sites on the web today.