Gambling Addiction

We’d all like to be rich. Playing the lottery or making an occasional trip to Las Vegas or some nearby casino allows us to indulge in the dream of being wealthy someday. Bright lights lure us in and sporadic gaming payouts tempt us into believing we might just hit it big. But, while it’s generally fine for most people to wager on games of chance once in a while, for those at risk of a gambling addiction, giving into the temptation may trigger a slide into a gambling problem.

Why do People Gamble?

People don’t usually gamble for one single reason, although the underlying motivation for gambling is typically profit based. The thought of seeing coins flowing out of a slot machine like an endless silver waterfall or the Hollywood movie scene of a casino piling stacks of money in front of a winner can move almost anyone to take a chance on gambling.

Aside from profit, however, people often gamble for:

  • Excitement – think about the thrill of the flashing lights and bells that go off when someone wins on a slot machine
  • Pleasure and the euphoria of winning every so often
  • Escape from troubles
  • Social valuation – even if they lose a lot of money, a person may feel that the act of gambling shows they are successful enough to be able to afford to lose it (even if that isn’t really true)
  • Pride – if someone wins a few hands of poker, they feel smart and invincible
  • The chance you could change your life with very little effort
  • Social acceptance – this applies to many games, ranging from playing bingo at church to joining in football pools with friends on Game Day

Pathological Gambling Risk Factors

Around 1 to 3 percent of people in the United States are impacted by a gambling problem. As with other addictions, gambling disorders tend to run in families. Those who suffer from this impulse-control disorder also tend to have issues with anxiety and depression and/or problems with substance abuse or alcoholism. The disorder symptoms may come and go, but without treatment, the problem will return.

A gambling addiction usually starts between the ages of 20 and 40 in females and in early adolescence in males, however it can happen at any stage of life. While it can affect anyone, the risk of compulsive gambling increases in those who are highly competitive, are workaholics, have a friend or family member with a gambling compulsion, or in those who have bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction

In the same way as alcohol or drugs, gambling stimulates the brain’s reward center. Just like with any addiction, a person with a gambling disorder can’t resist gambling even if they don’t have the money to lose. They hide their need to gamble from family and friends and vehemently deny they have a problem. They feel compelled to keep playing in order to recover their losses. They also become tense and anxious when they can’t satisfy their urge to gamble and will feel relief when they finally get their “fix.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a gambling disorder as involving “repeated problematic gambling behavior that causes significant problems or distress. It is also called gambling addiction or compulsive gambling.”

If family, friends, or coworkers have talked to you about your gambling, you may have a gambling problem. To help clarify if you may be a compulsive gambler, this list from the APA can help you decide:

A diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year (Note: this questionnaire is not intended to replace professional diagnosis):

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

Add up your score:

  • 4 to 5: Shows a mild gambling problem
  • 6 to 7: Points to a moderate gambling problem
  • 8 to 9: Indicates a severe gambling problem

Self-Help for Gambling Addiction

The biggest step toward recovery is acknowledging that you have a gambling problem. While it is difficult to quit gambling, many people have done so and were able to rebuild their lives. The path is easier when you have support.

Some self-help tips are:

  • Find a support group, like Gamblers Anonymous or get support from a mental health professional
  • Seek treatment for any underlying mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression, which can trigger a gambling problem
  • Reach out to family and friends for help
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga or mindfulness
  • Distract yourself by starting an exercise program or taking up a sport.
  • Spend time with non-gambling friends or take up a hobby. Be certain not to isolate yourself
  • Visualize what will happen if you gamble. How will you feel if you disappoint everyone again or if you lose all your money again?
  • If you are the family member or friend of a gambler, don’t pay off their debts. You run the very real risk of enabling them to gamble again.

Help for Gambling Addiction

If you or a loved one need help to stop compulsive gambling, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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