In general, gambling in moderation is a largely socially-acceptable behavior. But having a gambling addiction is a different matter. If left unaddressed and untreated, a gambling addiction can have destructive effects on your life and negatively impact your financial security, personal relationships, emotional and mental health, and employment stability.
What is Gambling Disorder?
Gambling disorder is characterized by compulsive and dependent gambling behavior that leads to significant impairment in the day to day functioning of a person’s life or health. If you have a gambling addiction, you may feel an seemingly uncontrollable urge to:
- Buy lottery tickets
- Visit casinos
- Play slot machines
- Bet on sports
- Engage in online gambling
The specific type and severity of gambling addictions may vary from person to person. But in general, a gambling disorder is defined by a person’s inability to control it. Despite negative social, financial, or legal consequences, someone with a gambling addiction will continue to engage in the behavior.
According to recent research in behavioral addictions, compulsive gambling has begun to be recognized as a psychiatric disorder. That being said, not all behavioral addictions are classified as addictive disorders. This is largely due to a lack of research on the topic. At face value and common definitions, many other behavioral disorders may be placed into the same category as substance abuse disorders.
Signs of Gambling Disorder
Gambling disorder or gambling addiction has a number of symptoms including but not limited to:
- Uncontrollable need to use increasing amounts of money in order to maintain the level of excitement
- Restlessness or excessive irritability when attempting to regulate behavior or abstain from gambling
- Repeated, unsuccessful attempts made to manage, reduce, or abstain from gambling
- Consistent preoccupation with gambling
- A pattern of seeking out gambling in order to cope with feelings of stress or pain
- Repeated attempts to “break even” by returning to gambling even after losing large amounts of money
- Evidence of erratic behavior, such as lying in order to conceal gambling behaviors
- Negative effects on interpersonal relationships, work dependability, or performance in school
- Signs of financial reliance on others as the result of uncontrollable gambling
- Loss of house, job, car, or other personal possessions that were used to fuel gambling
- Feelings of guilt or shame after a gambling session
- Tendency to take bigger and bigger risks while gambling
- Stealing in order to get more money for gambling
Because a gambling addiction is so financially consuming, it can be difficult to conceal and is made obvious in a person’s involvement with casinos or online gambling pools. Even if they gamble at home when no one is around, an addiction may begin to show itself in other areas of life, especially work and finances.
What’s the Link Between a Gambling Addiction and Substance Addiction?
For the person struggling with a gambling addiction, the area of their brain called the insula may be overactive. This region may lead to distorted thinking and can cause a person to se patterns in random sequences and continue gambling after near misses. The importance of brain chemistry on gambling disorders has significant overlap with other substance addictions.
With a gambling disorder, a person’s brain may respond to the act of gambling in the same way that an alcoholic’s brain responds to a drink. This is the reward-pleasure center of the brain. Whether it is a substance or behavior, the brain becomes dependent on the chemical reaction triggered by the activity. The more a person feeds the habit to achieve euphoria, the worse it will become. And just as people with substance abuse addictions often try to hide their behavior, people who struggle with gambling disorder will do the same to retain a false sense of control over their lives.
How is Gambling Addiction Treated?
Like any other addiction, a gambling addiction can be treated with the right professional care. Unlike someone with a substance addiction, there is no physical detox to eliminate the addictive substance from the body. Instead, a person with a gambling disorder will focus on retraining the brain and learning how to develop a healthy and balanced relationship with money and stress.
- Inpatient rehabilitation program: This type of program may be helpful for those with severe gambling addictions, such as those who are physically unable to avoid casinos or other gambling venues without restraint. A person may stay in the treatment facility for a set amount of time, anywhere from thirty days to a year.
- Outpatient rehabilitation program: In this type of program, a person struggling with gambling attends classes at a facility and may also attend group sessions, as well as one-on-one therapy. The person remains living at their home and participating in school, work, or other daily activities.
- Psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy: In addition to group counseling or support sessions, a person may also benefit from one-on-one specialized therapy. Like other addictions, gambling addiction can stem from deeper emotional or mental health issues. Dealing with these underlying issues in order to change self-destructive patterns can help a person recover from a gambling addiction.
- Medication: In some cases, a person may require medication to help overcome their gambling urges. A gambling addiction might result from an underlying mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder, which may require a medical professional to prescribe medication.
Overcoming Gambling Addictions
Like any addiction, compulsive gambling and gambling addictions can be almost impossible to stop without outside help. Although it may feel embarrassing to admit that you have a problem, the key to overcoming the shame or embarrassment is the greater reward of embarking on your the road to recovery and wholeness.
A recovery program, one-on-one counseling, medication, and lifestyle changes may help you overcome your gambling addiction. If a gambling problem is left unattended, it can lead to serious financial and personal issues. Effective and professional treatment can help you avoid these consequences and mend your relationships through the process of recovery.