What is gambling addiction?
A gambling addiction – otherwise known as a gambling disorder or compulsive gambling habit – involves the uncontrollable urge to make bets and gamble despite the negative consequences.
Gambling disorder is currently the only behavioral addiction listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), reflecting research findings that show similarities between gambling disorder and substance-related disorders.
When a person gambles and wins, it triggers the reward center in the brain, releasing a flurry of endorphins that create feelings of pleasure and fulfillment (much like drugs or alcohol can). These endorphins can become addictive if not controlled, and lead to a person repeatedly chasing more.
Those affected find themselves unable to resist the urge to gamble, even when they are fully aware of the detrimental effects on their lives and the lives of those around them. For these individuals, the need to gamble will continue to escalate if left untreated.
Gambling addiction statistics
Gambling addiction has been a significant concern globally, with statistics reflecting its widespread impact.
- In the U.S., up to 20 million Americans (1.2–6.2%) have gambling problems or are at risk of developing them.
- The American Psychiatric Association notes that an estimated 0.4–4% of adults in the U.S. will develop a gambling disorder in their lifetime.
- The likelihood of developing a gambling addiction increases 23-fold for people affected by alcohol use disorder.
- More than 80% of American adults gamble on a yearly basis.
- The prevalence of gambling addiction in men is 1.5–2x more common than in women.
- As many as 750,000 young people, ages 14–21, have a gambling addiction.
- An estimated 50% of those affected by gambling problems commit crimes in order to support their addiction.
- The suicide rate among problem gamblers is 15 times higher than the general population.
Signs and symptoms of gambling addiction
Gambling addiction manifests through different signs and behaviors that often escalate over time. Because the addiction has few, if any, physical side effects, it can often be tricky for someone else to spot a problem in a loved one.
However, there are behavioral changes that are associated with a gambling addiction that are worth watching for. These include:
- Being preoccupied with gambling (thinking about past gambling, planning future gambling, finding ways to get more money to gamble, etc.).
- Losing interest in other hobbies or activities previously enjoyed.
- Trying to cut back on gambling but without much success.
- Feeling restless and irritable when not gambling.
- Struggling with depression and anxiety related to gambling.
- Lying or deceiving family members about money or where someone is going.
- Resorting to illegal activity like theft and fraud to acquire more money to gamble with.
- Putting gambling above everything else.
- Becoming aggressive or erratic in situations of stress (whether financial or otherwise).
These signs often point to a compulsive behavior that interferes significantly with a person’s life.
Compulsive gamblers often fail to stop when they’re on a losing streak and will do almost anything to continue gambling, even when the odds are heavily stacked against them.
What are the consequences of a gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction can have severe and far-reaching consequences that impact various parts of a person’s life. Financial ramifications are often one of the most obvious and tangible effects, leading to consequences such as:
- Crippling debt
- Loss of savings
- Foreclosure or repossession of assets
The strain on personal relationships is another significant consequence. Those with a gambling addiction may lie to their loved ones about their activities, leading to broken trust. This can result in problems with family members, friends, and colleagues. Social isolation is not uncommon, as people withdraw from social interactions to hide their gambling or due to shame or guilt.
The physical and emotional toll of a gambling addiction is also profound. The constant cycle of chasing losses and the inability to control one’s gambling habits can lead to high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. People living with this addiction can also experience anxiety-related physical issues like migraines, stomach problems, and high blood pressure.
Additionally, legal issues related to theft, fraud, or other criminal activities to finance gambling debt can arise.
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What are the risk factors for gambling addiction?
Multiple risk factors contribute to developing a gambling addiction, encompassing a blend of biological, psychological, environmental, and societal elements.
Personal factors such as a predisposition to impulsivity or a history of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or substance abuse can elevate the risk. Many view gambling as a means to cope with their mental health problems, in much the same way as a person addicted to alcohol will self soothe with a drink.
Psychological traits like seeking thrills or experiencing a high from risk-taking behaviors may also increase susceptibility to gambling addiction.
Additionally, environmental factors can play a role, such as:
- Exposure to gambling at a young age
- Easy access to gambling opportunities and money to fund them
- Financial difficulties
- Stressful life events like a job loss or relationship problems
Societal factors, such as cultural attitudes towards gambling, advertising, and the glamorization of gambling in the media, can also influence the likelihood of a person developing an addiction – particularly if there are other risk factors at play.
When gambling is depicted as an acceptable and even desirable activity among peers, that depiction can lead to a higher risk of addiction among vulnerable individuals.
Gambling addiction triggers
Gambling addiction triggers encompass a wide array of stimuli or situations that evoke the urge to gamble compulsively. While everyone’s triggers vary, some common ones include negative emotions such as:
These emotions often act as a catalyst, prompting individuals to seek relief through the excitement and temporary escape provided by gambling.
Additionally, environmental cues and situations can trigger gambling behavior, such as:
- Being in places associated with gambling, such as casinos
- Being around friends and family members who gamble
- Coming into extra money, for example, a work bonus or redundancy pay
Finally, certain internal triggers, such as feelings of boredom or a sense of emptiness, may prompt some individuals to seek stimulation through gambling.
The rituals or routines associated with gambling, like certain times of the day or specific events, can also act as triggers.
How is gambling addiction diagnosed?
Diagnosing gambling addiction involves a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional that considers various aspects like:
- The individual’s behavior
- The individual’s emotions
- The consequences related to the individual’s gambling
Most mental health professionals use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose gambling disorders. A person must experience at least four of the nine criteria specified within a 12-month timeframe to be considered a problem gambler.
The DSM-5 criteria include symptoms such as:
- Preoccupation with gambling
- Increased tolerance to gambling
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop or cut back
- Negative consequences of gambling
- Use of gambling to feel better when stressed or overwhelmed
Healthcare providers may also use structured interviews, questionnaires, or standardized assessments to evaluate the severity of the gambling problem.
These assessments often explore both the frequency and intensity of gambling behaviors in terms of its financial consequences and impact on relationships.
Additionally, professionals may look into the individual’s personal history, including any co-occurring mental health conditions or substance abuse issues which often accompany gambling addiction.
Treatment options for gambling addiction
Treating gambling addiction typically involves a holistic approach that addresses the psychological, behavioral, and social aspects of the disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) stands out as one of the primary therapeutic interventions for gambling addictions. CBT helps individuals identify and reframe distorted thoughts related to gambling and teaches coping strategies to manage triggers and cravings.
Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous offer valuable resources for those dealing with gambling addiction. These groups provide a welcoming environment where people can share experiences, receive accountability, and benefit from the guidance of others who understand.
Where problem gambling exists primarily due to mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder and severe anxiety, medications can be used to help reduce the symptoms. They should only be used as part of an overall treatment program to aid recovery under the guidance of a mental health professional.
Gambling addiction treatment at Tikvah Lake Recovery
Tikvah Lake Recovery offers a comprehensive program designed specifically for those struggling with a gambling addiction. Our treatment approach combines evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), with a focus on addressing any underlying psychological factors that are contributing to your addiction.
We provide individualized treatment plans for each of our clients because we understand that each person’s journey to recovery is unique. These plans include intensive therapy sessions aimed at identifying and modifying problematic gambling behaviors and thought patterns, alongside group therapy and support sessions to create a sense of community and offer the space for individuals to share, learn, and build.
Tikvah Lake emphasizes aftercare and relapse prevention strategies, providing ongoing support and resources to help our clients maintain their recovery after completing the program.
Our team of professionals, including psychologists, counselors, and addiction specialists, collaborate to provide customized care to help you recover from gambling addiction and any underlying dual diagnosis disorders.
Take that important first step today by contacting our admissions office and finding out how we can help you or a loved one overcome problem gambling.