What is gambling addiction?
A gambling addiction – otherwise known as a gambling disorder or compulsive gambling habit – is the uncontrollable urge to make bets and gamble, despite the negative impact it might have on someone’s life. Gambling addiction carries similar consequences as other addictions like sex, pornography, process addiction and even substance abuse.
When a person wins a bet, it triggers the reward center in the brain, releasing a flurry of endorphins through the brain that release feelings of pleasure and fulfilment. These endorphins are addictive if not controlled, and it leads to someone wanting more.
Symptoms of gambling addiction
There are many different signs and symptoms of gambling addiction, but because the addiction has few if any, physical side effects, it can oftentimes be tricky for someone else to spot a problem in a loved one.
However, there are behavioral changes that are associated with addiction that are worth watching for. These include:
- Being preoccupied with gambling and always planning to get more money to gamble.
- Trying to cut back on gambling but without much success.
- Feeling restless and irritable when not 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 a situation of stress (whether financial or otherwise).
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 might not be in their favor.
How to diagnose gambling addiction
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (otherwise known as the DSM-5), a person must experience at least four of the following nine symptoms within a 12-month timeframe to be considered a problem gambler.
- Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to increase feelings of excitement.
- Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop gambling.
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or control gambling.
- Thinking about gambling all the time and making plans to gamble.
- Gambling to feel better when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
- Continuing to gamble after losing.
- Lying about gambling activities.
- Experiencing relationship problems due to gambling.
- Depending on others financially to fuel a gambling habit.
If you know of anyone who is experiencing more than four of these side effects, it’s time for them to seek professional help. Rehabilitation treatment programs are a great first step. They offer guided, expert and supportive treatment programs that help problem gamblers overcome their addiction.
Gambling addiction triggers
Gambling addiction can happen to anyone. We’re all susceptible to our brain’s reward center, and many things can happen in life that causes us to turn to gambling as a viable ‘escape’ from boredom or troublesome times. Some gambling addiction triggers include:
- Traumatic circumstances
- Job-related stress
- Other addictions and their effects
- Retirement and boredom
- External influences from friends
- Depression or anxiety
There are, of course, many other triggers that might start a gambling habit. It’s a habit that can form in anyone, and at any time or stage of life.
Some statistics about problem gambling
Because gambling is legal, accessible, and in many ways, enjoyable, a gambling problem can start almost immediately in a person. A first-time gambler, for example, could quickly turn into a lifetime gambler.
When considering gambling trends, there are some statistics to be made aware of. For example:
- The likelihood of developing a gambling addiction increases 23-fold for people affected by alcohol use disorders.
- More than 80 percent of American adults gamble on a yearly basis.
- As many as 750,000 young people, ages 14 to 21 have a gambling addiction.
- An estimated 50 percent of those affected by gambling problems commit crimes in order to support their addiction.
Gambling and mental illness
Gambling addiction statistics show a high incidence of certain types of mental illness, some of which include:
- Depression disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
- Anti-social personality disorder
As with any other type of addiction, a gambling addiction can only get worse when left untreated.
Treatment for gambling addiction
Gambling, like all other addictions, will only worsen the longer a person goes without treatment for it. What might begin as harmless fun on a Friday evening can quickly escalate into a Monday morning gambling session after skiving off work. This is a problem, and it must be treated as soon as possible.
Some treatment options for problem gambling include:
This could be behavioural therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other types of therapy, including psychoanalysis and group therapy sessions. Therapy for gambling addiction is a great way to help someone change how they feel and think about gambling, which ultimately helps them stop thinking about gambling altogether.
Sometimes, problem gambling exists because of mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder and severe anxiety. Medications like mood stabilizers, then, can help reduce the symptoms of turning to gambling as a way to escape the feelings associated with mental health problems.
If group therapy sessions in a supervised setting like rehabilitation put someone off receiving help for gambling addiction, there are alternative options like self-help groups. These can be great to help a person meet and go through their addiction with other likeminded individuals.
Seeking professional help through rehab
Calm and supportive environments like rehab can be the perfect thing needed for a problem gambler to overcome their addiction. Often, rehab is far detached from someone’s everyday life and the negative triggers that may influence and fuel a gambling addiction. In a rehab setting, a person can also receive personalized treatment to help them learn the tools needed to overcome their gambling addiction not just in the short term, but for the rest of their lives.