Addiction can take many different forms.
While drugs and alcohol are the most common causes of addiction, there are many other vices that can be just as damaging to a person’s physical and mental health. Gambling addiction, for instance, is a compulsive behavior in which a person has the uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the negative repercussions it may have. Those with gambling addiction are willing to risk something of value in the hope that it will allow them to obtain something of greater value.
Gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system, much like drugs and alcohol. The desire to feel the rush and win big can overpower more rational thoughts, leading to the development of compulsive, addictive behaviors. This may display itself through behaviors such as continuously chasing bets, depleted savings, growing debt, fraud, and theft. What makes gambling addiction more problematic is its growing accessibility to the public. Through the use of smart phones, tablets, and other devices, placing a bet is as easy as pressing a button. It is easier to hide problematic gambling behavior through these devices, making it harder for loved ones to recognize there is a problem before it is too late. Gambling addiction can destroy lives, but there are risk factors and symptoms that can help identify the problem, while proper treatment can effectively help addicts regain control of their lives.
Symptoms of Gambling Addiction
The causes of gambling addiction are relatively unknown, but like many problems, it appears to originate as a result of a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Compulsive gambling can impact both men and women equally, and knows no bounds as far as social, cultural, and socioeconomic factors are concerned. Although many people will gamble at least once in their lives, many will not develop an addiction to the behavior. There are several risk factors that may put an individual at a higher risk for addiction. These include:
Behavior and mood disorders: People who compulsively gamble often also struggle with another behavior or mood disorder. This may be substance addiction, mood, or personality disorders. The existence of at least one preexisting disorder can put people at greater risk for developing co-occurring disorders. Many gamblers also struggle with alcoholism and depression as a result of their habits.
Sex: Although both men and women can develop gambling addiction, men are more prone to develop problems with gambling than women. Patterns of gambling addiction development have become more similar between men and women in recent years; however, women are more likely to begin gambling later in life, and are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
Personality characteristics: Certain traits can make a person more likely to develop a problem with gambling. Individuals who are highly competitive, easily bored, restless, or workaholics are more likely to take up the habit.
Age: Gambling addiction can develop at any stage in life, but generally younger adults and middle-aged people are more likely to struggle with compulsive behaviors.
Many people develop a problem with gambling over years of social gambling. On rare occasions, a person may develop compulsive behaviors after their first gambling experience; however, many will partake in the activity without any issues for long periods of time before it develops into something problematic. More frequent gambling and stressful life experiences can make a person more likely to develop an addiction. This is especially true for individuals who are depressed, as gambling may offer an escape. Unlike casual gamblers who know when to stop and cut their losses, those with gambling addiction often chase the thrill rather than the money. They may begin betting increasingly larger sums of money that they cannot afford to lose. They are often compelled to keep gambling in order to win back their money, leading to a bigger loss and greater destruction in their lives.
Signs of gambling addiction include:
- Preoccupation with gambling
- Taking time away from work or family to gamble
- Lying about gambling
- Being thrilled by taking big gambling risks
- Partaking in increasingly larger gambling risks
- Using gambling as a way to escape problems or stress
- Borrowing or stealing in order to keep gambling
- Feeling guilt about gambling
- Inability to cut back on gambling behaviors
Treatment for Gambling Addiction
In treating gambling addiction, a person must first acknowledge and accept that they have a problem. Treatment for gambling addiction largely focuses on changing behaviors and environments that enable compulsive behaviors.
- Psychotherapy: Psychological and behavioral therapies are critical in addressing gambling addiction. A person suffering from gambling addiction must unlearn behaviors that enable abuse and develop skills that help them reduce the urge to gamble. Therapy is designed to identify and address the negative thoughts, beliefs, and actions that enable destructive behaviors, and replace them with healthy, positive ones.
- Self-help groups: Many individuals may benefit by becoming a member of a self-help group. Groups like Gamblers Anonymous are incredibly beneficial during and after treatment. Being surrounded by others who share similar experiences allows individuals to develop meaningful relationships with others to whom they can easily relate, and allows them to learn from others who have been down the same road.
- Medications: Since co-occurring disorders often play a role in the development of addiction, treating mood and behavioral disorders can help an individual recover from gambling addiction. While this will not necessarily treat compulsive gambling itself, it can help address underlying issues that may fuel negative behaviors.