John Von Eschen, MA, LMFT, gambling counselor at Pathways Counseling Center in St. Paul, has seen clients develop problem behaviors from activities that might seem benign at first blush. “Whether these activities are considered gambling from a legal definition or not doesn’t really matter,” says John. “They can still create the type of behavior we associate with gambling addiction, including disruption of family life, loss of finances and emotional problems.”
Here are some lesser-known activities that have the potential to create behavioral problems similar to gambling addiction:
Baseball Card Collecting. Some baseball card collectors engage in what is called box betting. In box betting, collectors purchase boxes or large collections of baseball cards in hopes of finding a few select valuable cards that can be sold for big money.
This activity can actually produce two “highs.” The first is the bidding process that a collector goes through to determine what to purchase and for how much. This can involve a considerable investment of time, particularly if one is bidding on numerous boxes at one time. The second reward is the thrill of poring through the box to determine if any valuable cards exist.
Coin Collecting. Coin collecting can also result in unhealthy behavior. Collectors may not be satisfied until their collection is complete and may often be in pursuit of “one more coin” to bring a collection to fruition. After that, they make seek to upgrade their array by finding new coins to hunt. In other cases, collectors who become obsessive in their pursuit of coins may switch to collecting stamps, guns or other collectibles.
Online Shopping. The opportunity to make purchases online through a bidding process is greater than ever before. Sites such as Ebay and Amazon, as well as others, allow people to spend considerable time shopping for exactly what they want at the exact price they want to pay. However, for some this pursuit can become an unhealthy compulsion, monopolizing many hours and taking time away from job and family.
Online Games. There are many online games where the purchase of credits is required to keep the game going or to increase chances of winning. These games are considered nontraditional forms of gambling because participants can’t actually win money and prizes, but they become addicted to the thrill of winning.
Stock Trading. When it comes to stock trading, the line between “hobby” and “addiction” is a thin one. An addiction to investing can be hard to diagnose at first, as many adults either make investments or own a portfolio or securities at some point. The ease and convenience of online brokerages has made it easier for people to invest at will. Compulsive trading can ratchet up transaction costs and stress levels, and the exorbitant amount of time following individual stocks can mean time spent away from the important things in life.
“These are not activities that clients expect will cause the type of problem behaviors we see with gambling addiction,” says John. “They tell me things like, ‘I never thought of baseball card collecting as gambling. How can this be gambling?’”
The potential for these types of activities to cause behaviors and consequences similar to a gambling problem is not widely recognized nor understood by the counseling community and the general public. As with other activities, it becomes a problem when participation becomes all-consuming and extreme. Therefore, moderation is key.