Gambling Addiction Help, Treatment and Support, Don’t Let Gambling Ruin You!

Gambling Addiction Overview

As its name indicates, gambling addiction (also referred to as compulsive gambling or pathological gambling) is a behavior disorder marked by an inability to stop gambling, or to limit the amount of time, attention, and money one dedicates toward gambling and related activities.

For many people, gambling is a relatively harmless form of entertainment. From a monthly card game with friends to an occasional trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, millions of Americans gamble every year — most without significant negative impact on themselves or their families.

However, for an estimated 3 million others, gambling is far from harmless. For these individuals, gambling has progressed from a form of entertainment into a problematic behavior, and then morphed into an addiction. As is the case with other types of addiction and behavior compulsions, gambling addiction is marked by an inability to stop, even in the aftermath of significant negative consequences.

Regardless of whether they have won thousands of dollars or lost their life savings, addicted gamblers are incapable of reducing or stopping their gambling behaviors.

Causes of a Gambling Addiction

As is also the case with other pathological or addictive behaviors, researchers have yet to identify a primary cause of compulsive gambling.

Many experts believe that problems in the pleasure/reward areas of the brain may lead to a gambling addiction. (This is consistent with the belief that these same areas of the brain are involved in the development of addictions to other behaviors, and to alcohol and other drugs.)

Gambling compulsions have also been observed in individuals with bipolar disorder, as the manic phase of bipolar often involves spending sprees and a greater likelihood of undertaking risky behaviors.

However, in most cases, pathological or compulsive gambling results from the complex interplay among a number of biological (internal) and environmental (external) factors.

Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction

According to the Gambling Addictions website, individuals who can answer “yes” to seven or more of the following questions may need to seek professional treatment for a gambling addiction:

  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
  10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

It is important to note that while almost everyone experiences these symptoms when exposed to certain threats or stresses, individual s who have anxiety or panic disorders experience these symptoms often, and in the absence of any negative external stimulus.

Stages of Gambling Addiction

Compulsive gambling, also known as gambling addiction, has many of the same indicators, behaviors and consequences associated with other addictions – drug, alcohol, etc. Gambling addicts have been found in casinos, at racetracks, in neighborhood poker games (and anywhere one can place a bet) for many centuries.  Compulsive gambling has been on the rise (at a fast clip) for the past decade or so, mostly due to the introduction of online gambling.

There are hundreds of websites that will allow you to gamble via credit card, debit card or direct deposit.  In a sense, online gambling represents the ‘perfect storm’ for addicts – bringing the gaming right into their homes or offices, the addict can gamble around the clock without leaving his computer chair.  They can “charge” their losses, which makes it easier to avoid the immediate sting of losing large sums of money. Since the money never touches the gambler’s hands, it is easy to ignore reality – they may be losing a great deal of money and in addition they now have to pay interest on those losses.

The largest bump in online addicts has been seen among young adults;  ages 17 – 25. The national obsession with “seven-card hold ‘em” (a form of poker) has brought this group to the internet in droves. Yes, most sites say you must be 18 or 21 to gamble; but nothing is done to verify gamblers are “of age”.

Are you addicted?

If your gambling has lead to broken relationships, irresponsibility towards job and family obligations and you find yourself in or on the brink of financial disaster, chances are good that you are a gambling addict. Compulsive gamblers (like any addict) find it impossible to change their destructive habits, no matter how many times they vow to and regardless of the harshness of consequences they suffer.

Problem gamblers, though exhibiting many of the same behaviors might be classified in one of two groups:

  • One group is addicted to the thrill of risk-taking.  The acting of gambling alone is the drug.  This group often gambles with others because part of the high they experience is based on beating other players or the “house”. This group usually likes games that include a level of skill – so they can test themselves – including cards and betting on sports. Some thrill-seekers are gainfully employed where they “gamble” for a living – in the stock and commodities markets.
  • Another group uses gambling to “numb out” - This group includes those running from their unpleasant emotions, i.e. depression, loneliness.  They are not looking for the “rush”, they want to check-out of the world via gambling and feel nothing. These gamblers often prefer to remain isolated and cling to games like slot machines and online gaming. They aren’t looking for games that require skill and, therefore, thought – they want to avoid thinking as much as possible.

Gambling addiction frequently progresses through several stages

Virtually every compulsive gambler starts in the Winning Stage: The first signs of addiction often follow a gambler’s big win.  Winning big is exciting and leaves the gambler with positive feelings about gaming.  Often, their thinking is not entirely rational; they may think they have special skills that will keep them on the winning track always.  Winning prompts them to spend more and more money as they pursue the next win.

Just as certain as night follows day, eventually the gambler will enter the Losing Stage.  Consumed by the desire to recoup their losses, they become obsessed.  Earlier habits may change; they might start gambling alone and miss work or school regularly.  Relationships suffer as the gambler defaults on debts and lies to family and friends.

As their losses and problems mount, gambling addicts lose all control over their gambling as they enter the End Stages of Addiction.  Everything gets worse; they feel shame and guilt, yet they continue to gamble.  At this late stage, addicts may lie, cheat or steal to finance their compulsion. The consequences continue to worsen – they may be arrested, lose their jobs and marriages.

The Final Stage is one of Hopelessness

This is the time when the addict hits rock bottom. They feel completely isolated from everyone and do not believe that help is available.  Sometimes, as hopelessness increases, the gambler is uncertain about whether they want to continue living.  The gambling addiction may now lead to alcohol and drug abuse – to escape.  Unfortunately, at this late stage, problem gamblers may consider or attempt suicide.

As with many addictions, sometimes recovery is only possible once the gambler hits hard rock bottom. At this point they may become willing to acknowledge their problem and to ask for help.  Treatment centers, addiction therapy and Gambler’s Anonymous have all provided millions of addicts a way to begin recovery.  Little can be done, however, if the addict does not admit powerlessness and ask for help.

Treatment for gambling addiction is a complex and highly individualized experience that must take a number of factors into account. Compulsive gamblers may also be struggling with co-occurring disorders such as alcoholism, addiction, and depression or other mood disorders.

Depending upon the unique circumstances of the individual patient, gambling addiction treatment may involve a number of the following:

  • Medication (such as anti-depressants and related psychiatric drugs that have shown promise with compulsive behavior patients)
  • Individual, Group, and Family Therapy
  • Relationship Counseling
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • 12-Step Philosophies (both for co-occurring substance addictions and for the compulsive gambling itself)
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Psychodrama Therapy