What Is Gambling?
For the most part, gambling
is a socially acceptable behavior — when done in moderation. Gambling addiction
is another story. The National Gambling Impact
Study Commission (NGISC) estimates that gambling addiction affects approximately
2 to 5 percent of Americans.
Someone with a
gambling addiction may feel a need to buy lottery tickets, visit casinos, play
slot machines, bet on sports, or gamble online. The type or frequency of
gambling may vary, but an addict will typically be unable to control their behavior.
They’ll continue gambling despite negative social, financial, or legal
Several factors can
increase your risk of compulsive gambling. The gambling addict’s brain appears
to respond to the act of gambling in the same way the alcoholic brain responds
to a drink. This means that as the gambler feeds their habit, their addiction
suggests that an area of the brain called the insula may be overactive in most
people addicted to gambling. This hyperactive region may cause the distorted
thinking that enables gamblers to see patterns in random sequences and continue
playing after near misses.
While research has
shown the majority of gambling addicts to be men, this type of addiction is not
uncommon among women.
Symptoms and Signs
While addicts of
all kinds will try to hide their addiction, gambling may be more difficult to
conceal. Gambling addicts must have frequent access to casinos or online
gambling pools. Even if they gamble at home when no one is around, the problem
will begin showing itself in other areas of the gambler’s life.
It’s also important
to remember that a compulsive gambler may not gamble frequently, but when they
do gamble, they may be unable to stop.
Some or all of the following behaviors may be present:
over any type of gambling
work or other commitments in order to gamble
bills and expenses in order to use the money for gambling
relationships or friendships
house, job, car, or other personal possessions
about the gambling habit
possessions in order to gamble
to feel better about life
to control the gambling
guilty after a gambling session
bigger and bigger risks
With the right
treatment, gambling addiction is manageable. Unlike someone with a food
addiction, a compulsive gambler does not need the object of their addiction to
survive. They simply need to learn how to develop a healthy and balanced
relationship with money. A program of recovery can assist with impulse control.
may lead to relapse. Like a drug addict, a gambling addict will want to quit
completely. In general, gambling addiction is treated with similar methods used
for treating other addictions.
Inpatient Rehabilitation Program
program at a treatment center can be a good start for someone with a severe gambling
addiction. It requires the person to stay in the facility for a set amount of
time, anywhere from 30 days to an entire year. This type of program may be good
for someone who is unable to avoid casinos or other gambling venues without
Outpatient Rehabilitation Program
treatment program is a more common option for gambling addicts. In this
setting, patients attend classes at a facility, but continue to live at home
and attend daily activities, such as going to work or school. The program will
likely include group sessions and one-on-one therapy.
Gamblers Anonymous (GA) may be helpful for people who can’t afford other
treatments. A 12-step program will also help them transition back to their
programs follow the same model as Alcoholics Anonymous and can help the addict
build a support network of other recovered gambling addicts. Addicts may meet one
or more times per week for group sessions.
Psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Someone with a
gambling addict may also benefit from individual therapy. Gambling addiction
can often stem from deeper emotional or avoidance issues that need to be dealt
with in order to change self-destructive patterns. Counseling gives the person
addicted to gambling a place to open up and address these problems.
In some cases,
medication is necessary to help the person overcome gambling urges. A gambling
addiction might be the result of a mental health condition, like bipolar
disorder. In these cases, the addict must manage the underlying condition in
order to help with impulse control.
Like any addiction,
compulsive gambling can be difficult to stop. Since it’s also not one of the
more “mainstream” addictions, someone addicted to gambling may find it embarrassing
to admit they have a problem. This is also true because many people gamble
socially without developing a habit. Overcoming this shame will be a big step
A recovery program
and lifestyle changes can help a person addicted to gambling abstain. In most
cases, dealing with the financial consequences of gambling is the hardest part
of recovery. In the beginning, the person may need to turn over money
responsibilities to a spouse or trusted friend. Also, it is usually necessary
to avoid places where triggers may occur, such as casinos or bars.
Failing to treat a
gambling problem could result in financial ruin. It can also cost friendships
and family support. However, people addicted to gambling can mend these
relationships through recovery.
Several organizations provide information about gambling
addiction and treatment options. They may guide you to local support groups and
provide online help.
The following resources may be helpful if you suspect you may
have a problem, or if you’re concerned about a friend or family member:
National Council on Problem Gambling