Individuals who experience problems with gambling addiction may not be able to control the impulse to gamble even when they know that their actions could be harmful to themselves and those around them. Individuals with a gambling addiction are often chasing the next big win.

When is Gambling a Problem/When to Get Help?

Gambling addiction is categorized similarly to substance abuse related disorders. This is because of the way that gambling affects the brain’s reward centers. The criteria for gambling addiction disorder include an inability to stop or decrease gambling, negative effects on relationships as a result of gambling, and lying to cover up the extent of gambling. Gambling addiction is a form of impulse control. Individuals who have a problem with gambling, sometimes known as compulsive gamblers, are usually unable to control the impulse to gamble. This can result in health issues, financial problems, and place a strain on family relationships as well as employment-related problems. This condition is also considered a progressive illness. Gambling addiction can be managed but it cannot be cured. An individual with a gambling addiction may struggle with the impulse to gamble for the rest of his or her life.

Signs of a Compulsive Gambler

Gambling by itself is not necessarily a problem. Just as with consuming alcohol, gambling in moderation does not result in addiction for most people. It only becomes an issue when it has a negative impact on the person’s life. As is the case with other addictions, gambling addiction is often covered up by the individual. It’s not uncommon for family members to be completely unaware that there is even a problem until it has gone too far.

Warning signs of gambling addiction may include:

  • Gambling escalates in terms of either frequency or risk
  • Gambling is used as a way to escape problems
  • Lying to cover up gambling activities
  • Feeling elated before, during, or after engaging in gambling
  • Engaging in more gambling to try to win back losses
  • Ignoring work and family to gamble
  • Increasing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression
  • Increased substance or alcohol use

If you have noticed these indications in your own behavior or in that of someone close to you, it is important to seek help.

The Causes of Gambling

There are generally two different types of gamblers. They are:

Action Gamblers-Individuals in this category often hide low self-esteem with behavior that is manipulative, energetic, sociable, and overconfident. They typically begin gambling at a young age. An addiction to gambling may develop over a period of time. This type of gambler often prefers games of skill, such as poker and craps.

Escape Gamblers-Individuals in this category may lead completely productive lives for many years before they begin to show signs of compulsive gambling behavior. They often resort to gambling as a way of relieving pain resulting from abuse, loss, and/or trauma. After this happens, an addiction to gambling may develop quickly. Escape gamblers often prefer games of luck that are repetitious in nature, such as bingo or slot machines.

It can often be difficult to manage a gambling addiction due to how accessible gambling is, particularly mobile and online gambling. Some gamblers may prefer one type of gambling over another type, but all types of gambling can be addictive. Such types of gambling may include:

  • Remote or Internet-based gambling
  • Casino games
  • Slot machines
  • Dice games
  • Bingo
  • Betting
  • Scratch-offs and lottery tickets

There is no known specific cause of gambling addiction. It is believed that social, biological, environmental, and social factors may contribute to the development of gambling addiction. Significant similarities have been observed between substance abuse problems and gambling addiction. As is the case with substance abuse, the reward centers of the brain tend to become activated by gambling activities. When this happens, the brain releases large amounts of dopamine, which provides the individual with a large degree of satisfaction. This makes the gambling behavior even more addictive. Some studies have also shown that individuals experiencing problems with gambling addiction may also have lower levels of norepinephrine.

Gambling addiction may also occur along with other mental health conditions. This is known as dual-diagnosis. For example, an individual with depression may use gambling as a way to escape feelings of emptiness and sadness. Due to the complex nature of addiction and mental health issues, an array of approaches may be used in the treatment of dual diagnosis.

Therapy and Counseling for Gambling

The key to treating gambling addiction is behavior modification. By working with an experienced therapist, gamblers can learn how to recognize the problems that even small gambling activities can create. They will also learn how to manage their behavior to avoid the impulse to gamble in the future.

There is sometimes a myth that correcting addictive gambling behavior is as simple as stopping. Gambling addiction, like substance abuse, is very much an addiction and must be treated in a similar manner.

Although the effects of gambling can be devastating, it is important to understand that help is available through a variety of treatment formats. Working with an experienced therapist can help individuals who are struggling with gambling addiction recognize the effects of their behavior and learn how to successfully control it. Therapy may involve a variety of approaches, including psychotherapy and support groups. Research has shown that psychotherapy can be quite effective in treating gambling addiction. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as systematic exposure therapy to assist individuals struggling with gambling addiction learn how to retrain their brains to decrease the urge to gamble.

Treatment for gambling addiction may also involve the use of per support, step-based programs, and counseling. In many cases, a combination of these approaches may be used in the treatment of gambling addiction.

Since gambling addiction is a disease similar to substance abuse, it is a mistake to think that it can be resolved on its own. Professional help is the best way to handle gambling addiction. Locating a therapist who specializes in addiction and behavioral modification is imperative.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.