Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is the most common form of behavioral addiction, and the only one listed within the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Only a recent addition in the DSM-IV, gambling addiction has been a societal problem for many decades. Gambling addiction is classified by the inability for an individual to stop gambling, despite repeated negative consequences. While most are particular about the specific games they play, there are many different forms of gambling, which include:

  • betting on the outcome of horse races and other sports
  • casino gaming like poker, craps, roulette, and slot machines
  • lottery and scratch tickets
  • bingo
  • internet gambling

Gambling Addiction TreatmentSomeone addicted to gambling does not usually become an addict his or her first time to engage in gaming. Like all addictions, even for compulsive gamblers, gambling addiction is a progressive disorder, which starts with the recreational activity, and progresses to pathological (or problem) gambling.  Engaging in this behavior repeatedly can quickly become a compulsive behavior or addiction.

Pathological Gambling/Problem Gambling

Pathological gambling behavior is dangerous and essentially the equivalent of gambling addiction. It is classified as an impulse control disorder, and there are ten defining criteria for identification of a pathological gambler.

  1. Preoccupation with gambling, which includes reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, and thinking of ways to get financing for more gaming
  2. Increased tolerance, which leads to increased financial risk to achieve more excitement from gambling
  3. Symptoms of restlessness or irritability during attempts to decrease or stop gambling
  4. Returning to gambling to recoup losses during a previous venture
  5. Lying to friends, family members, therapists, and others to hide the extent and severity of the compulsive gambling
  6. Gambling to escape unwanted feelings like depression, helplessness, guilt, and anxiety
  7. Several unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop gambling
  8. Commission of illegal acts to obtain financing for more gambling. Such unlawful acts are fraud, embezzlement, and forgery.
  9. Significant loss or endangerment of relationships, jobs, and scholastic achievement
  10. Reliance on others for money to continue gambling, despite serious financial issues resulting from gambling.

Typically, an affirmative response to 5 or more of the above criteria indicates a pathological gambler, 3-5 indicate a problem gambler, and 1-2 definite answers suggest an “at-risk” player. Those who are considered to be compulsive or pathological gamblers are no longer in control of their gambling and should find help immediately.

How Does One Become a Pathological or Problem Gambler?

There is no definitive data to single out one or a group of causes for gambling addiction; however, there are specific common factors that have been consistent among those who have been treated for gambling addiction.

According to the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences, there are some research-based conclusions regarding how an individual may become a pathological gambler.

One such conclusion is a connection to other behavioral problems like substance abuse, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, there is often a co-occurring disorder or problem present which exacerbates the dependence.

Parental Gambling Issues and the Effects on a Child

Further research has shown that more problem gamblers than not report gambling problems with their parents, or in their childhood home. Often, consistent exposure to any behavior influences the way in which a child develops his or her life and actions.

The availability of casinos and other methods of gambling has been shown to have a direct effect on the demographical percentages of a problem or pathological gamblers.

There are also several connections that have been discovered which are more personal and involve aspects of previous trauma, low self-esteem, poor communication skills, and mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

No matter how the problem or pathological gambling develops, both have significant characteristics of the disorder, unmanageability, isolation, and eventual destruction if left unaddressed and untreated.

How is Gambling Addictive?

The science of how compulsive gambling can be addictive lies in the brain’s reward system, influenced by dopamine release. Because all forms of gambling are primarily games of chance, dopamine release in the brain that stimulates the reward system can be like a roller coaster with the unexpected ups and many downs inherent to gambling.

Studies show that when an immediate reward is given, dopamine release is at a much higher level than when a reward is expected, or no award is presented at all. About gambling, the odds are that many more losses than wins will occur. However, when there is an unexpected win, the euphoric rush produced by high dopamine levels is one that reinforces repetition of the behavior. Contrarily, once loss is experienced after a win, and dopamine levels significantly decrease, the gambler would naturally want to feel the high of a win again, so he continues to play. This can be likened to the highs of drug and alcohol use followed by the lows that prompt a desire to use again.

It’s Not Always About the Money

Studies also show that wins and near-misses activate the reward system of the brain, increasing the desire to repeat the action. While a near-miss is not as exciting as a win, in games involving skill, a near miss can indicate an error of some kind, and the resulting dopamine release motivates an effort to try again.

Extensive research shows that gambling addiction is not about the money, instead of the behavior and the way it can affect the reward system in the brain to drive compulsive gambling. Like with drugs and alcohol, gambling addicts are always chasing a high. Some people can gamble recreationally and experience no problems or severe consequences, but others who fall into gambling addiction get caught in a vicious cycle of compulsively playing an unwinnable game while destroying their own lives, and those of their loved ones.

Gambling Addiction Can be Helped

As with any other addiction, there are often underlying issues that either cause or exacerbate the addictive behaviors. At A Forever Recovery, we work with each to get to the root of what creates the patterns of destructive behavior in that person. With an open-ended program, we ensure that each graduate of our rehabilitation program has defined and accomplished the goals required to sustain recovery from gambling addiction. Some of these goals through cognitive behavioral therapy involve awareness of troubled people and situations, self-esteem, empowerment, and other skills necessary to solve problems and avoid emotional states that can trigger a relapse.

Because gambling is one of many addictions that have devastating effects on the lives of addicts and their loved ones, the criteria for identifying a pathological gambler is very similar to that of a drug addict or alcoholic. As a result of its nature, the signs of addiction to anything can be applied to each of the criteria for pathological gambling.

If you or a loved one are suffering from gambling addiction, call us now at our toll-free number to speak with a trained counselor about how we can develop an individualized treatment plan to heal the mind, body, and spirit, for a life of sustained recovery, happiness, and health. Don’t suffer alone; we can help. Call now!