Gambling Addiction Treatment
Like any substance or behavioural addiction, a gambling addiction – also known as, compulsive gambling, gambling disorder, or pathological gambling – is a serious condition that can have severe mental, financial and social consequences. A gambling addiction means the inability to control your betting behaviours, no matter the risk to yourself, your livelihood, or your loved ones.
Gambling addiction is known as an impulse control disorder, and is more complex and psychological than the ability to ‘choose to stop betting money.’ In recent years, studies and society has veered towards a belief that gambling addiction is as much of an ailment as say cocaine addiction, alcoholism, or an eating disorder.
This sort of addiction can be debilitating for families and careers. People who suffer from gambling addiction cannot put their former responsibilities above their gambling and betting impulses, and are constantly chasing losses, losing money, and getting into difficult situations.
But not everyone who has a gambling problem is completely out of control. Problem gambling however refers to an attitude towards gambling – whether that’s slot machines, casinos’ betting on sports or online – that disrupts your life for the worse. If you’re constantly thinking about gambling, and you’re wasting more and more time and money on it, then you have a gambling problem.
Am I A Problem Gambler?
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual for Diagnostic and Statistics about Mental Disorders (DSM), there are 10 questions to consider when self-assessing for a gambling disorder. These include:
- Is your mind preoccupied with gambling all the time? Are you constantly thinking back to good bets you won, when your next bet will be, or how you can get more money in order for you to bet?
- Is the amount of money you use to gamble going up and up each time in order for you to get the right kind of buzz?
- Have you tried, but failed, to stop gambling either on your own or with help?
- When you try to stop or cut down on gambling, do you feel stressed or anxious?
- Is gambling a way for you to escape your problems or get rid of unpleasant thoughts or feelings?
- When you lose a bet or don’t win your game, do you try again in order to ‘break even’?
- Does your gambling lead you to lie to your loved ones, therapists, or even colleagues because you know they will frown upon your habits?
- Have you broken the law in order to feed your gambling addiction? (fraud, embezzlement, theft)
- Has gambling caused destruction in your personal, professional or social life?
- Have you ever had to ask anyone to ‘bail you out’ due to a lack of money lost on gambling/ bets?
If you have answered yes to any of the questions above, then you need to consider the fact you may have a gambling problem.
What Does Gambling Do To Your Brain?
As we said, attitudes towards gambling addictions are changing. No longer do scientists and most of society see problem gambling as a sign of corruption, but like any other addiction or behavioural disorder.
“Without a doubt, we know it’s an actual brain disease. That’s very different from 20 years ago when people saw it as an issue of morality, greed, and lack of willpower. There are brain changes that explain why people can’t stop.” The brain changes that Dr Timothy Fong, UCLA Gambling Studies Program director is here referring to, is dopamine.
This is a natural chemical that is released when an individual undergoes something that is pleasurable. Dopamine relates to the brain’s reward processing – so when a gambler places a bet, this releases dopamine into the brain, and the gambler associates this feeling of pleasure with placing a bet. More so, if the bet is successful, a higher amount of dopamine is released.
How Does Gambling Become Addictive?
However, dopamine production also heavily corresponds to building a tolerance. The more someone gambles, the higher the bet needs to be in order for the desired ‘hit’ of dopamine.
Think of it in similar terms to someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol needing more of their desired substance to feel the same buzz, or a stronger type of substance. A problem gambler needs riskier bets or more amounts of money on the line to achieve the same reward.
You may have found yourself amid thousands of pounds of gambling debt, or in financially risky situations, or arguments over your gambling with loved ones and think: how did I end up here? You might have initially gambled for fun or to be social, but now the consequences are severe and you no longer have control. Realising that somewhere along the line you have developed an addiction is key.
This is not your fault: your brain has only reacted in a natural way to dopamine levels. You have become ‘hooked’ on something that was created to be thrill-seeking and pleasurable.
Types of Gambling Activities
Gambling can take many forms, but for those with a gambling problem or who are addicted, one form takes precedence over another: a true sign of addiction. Below we have listed the most common types:
- Scratch cards
- Betting on sports like football or boxing
- Betting on racing like dogs or horses
- Card betting or poker
- Slot machines
Why Do People Keep Gambling Even If They Know It’s Bad?
Researchers have identified five different psychological tendencies that could compel someone to carry on gambling, despite an awareness of the repercussions:
This means that someone’s actions – in this instance, a gambler placing a bet – is not 'rewarded’ or successful 100% of the time. But neither is it negative or unsuccessful 100% of the time. A sequence of losses is just part of the pattern, and they believe they will be rewarded at some point.
This is a case of over-expectation or over-estimation of the chances of winning, because of previous events. Everyone remembers the times they won, but not so much the times they lost.
This is also a classic case of 'if it can happen to them, it can happen to me’ in relation to someone winning the jackpot on the EuroMillions or betting money on an outsider in a horse race.
Here is where the 'law of chance’ comes into play, which is what a lot of gamblers believe. They assume that if they flip a coin 10 times, it couldn’t possibly land on tails each time – because this isn’t nature or chance’s way of balancing things out.
But in reality, it doesn’t matter on the sequence of events that a coin is flipped in. Each flip is a new, isolated incident and does not relate to the previous flip.
We humans love to be in control: we can’t help it. So, when it comes to games or bets we think we have some element of control over (think picking a certain colour or fruit, or rolling the dice in a certain way) gamblers are often instilled with a false sense of control.
This basically means that losing is far sorer than winning. Losing a ten-pound note on the floor is far more memorable and impactful than finding a note of equal value. People who gamble often feel disheartened or guilty about their losses, and desperately attempt to 'make up for their losses.’
Recreational Gambling VS Problem Gambling
Similarly, not everyone who gambles is prone to becoming addicted, nor are they on the scale of problem gambling. You wouldn’t say someone who has a glass of wine with their meal every Sunday is a problem drinker.
People who bet or gamble for entertainment, or every once in a while, do so in full knowledge (not hope) that they are likely to lose. Anything they win is pure luck, and taken not as their powers or capability to bet – but pure chance.
But problem gamblers truly believe they can influence their odds with some sort of special knowledge that they are privy to. Normally through their ‘betting experience’ or through their commitment to the activity. Problem gamblers believe a big win is possible, and probable, and that it would be the answer to all their prayers.
According to a 2015 Gambling Commission survey, around 2 million British people have an addiction to gambling, or are prone to becoming addicted. In this figure are people who are now betting, not for the fun of it but because they have to – their compulsion and addiction compels them.
Who Is Most Likely To Develop A Gambling Addiction?
The majority of people who play cards or put on regular bets never do develop an addiction. But below, we have listed some predispositions that could contribute to someone developing a gambling addiction. These include:
- People with a gambling problem or addiction are often dually diagnosed with mental health problems. Personality disorders – such as bipolar disorder, OCD, and ADHD – substance abuse problems, depression and anxiety are also frequent disorders among gamblers
- Age is also another contributing factor. Middle-aged people and young adults are more at risk of becoming problem gamblers. Childhood or teenage gambling increases the likelihood of an adult developing a gambling problem
- Sex: men more so than women are more prone to developing a gambling problem. However, women are more likely to start betting in later life and tend to develop an addiction at a greater speed
- Influences such as family, friends or environments can also play a part in developing a gambling problem. Growing up in a setting where gambling is the norm is highly likely to lead to a problem in later life. Also, childhood abuse or trauma can result in an unhealthy relationship with negative things such as gambling
- Certain medications, especially those for restless legs syndrome and Parkinson’s disease can lead to compulsive behaviours which can include gambling
- Lack of knowledge relating to how dangerous gambling can be and that the odds are never truly with you
Signs & Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction
Being aware of the tell-tale signs of gambling addiction could save the life and sanity of someone you love. Below we have listed some of the most common factors to be aware of:
- More financial risk-taking
- Losing interest in existing activities or commitments and problems arising in work or family life
- Counting on the ‘big win’ to solve all of life’s problems
- Stealing money
- Self-worth and self-esteem issues, coupled with depression and anxiety
- Lying to cover a gambling problem
- Being unable to pay back borrowed money
- Being obsessed with gambling
- Neglecting bills or other financial responsibilities
- Denial about a gambling problem
- Isolation and being withdrawn from family or friends
- Inability to explain where money is going
- Wanting to stop but not being able to
- Signs of worry like stress, weight loss or insomnia
- Becoming obsessed with selling items and personal possessions
If you are concerned about a loved one exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it’s time to get in touch. Intervening now may seem scary and overwhelming, but there is no time like the present when it comes to health.
Gambling & Depression
In the world of gambling, depression is a common co-occurrence. People who are suffering from depression might use gambling and betting as a means of escapism or temporary relief. Contrastingly, those who fall into the spiral of gambling may develop depression and anxiety as a result of accumulative debts.
Factors that could contribute towards depression in those who have a gambling problem include familial problems or loss of work. Relationship breakdowns due to distrust, and general financial anxieties are also risk factors.
But unlike other addictions, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, the self-medicating element when gambling poses a different kind of difficulty for treatment professionals. This behavioural addiction instils a psychological relief or ‘medicine, making it difficult to treat what the ‘withdrawal’ period would be.
Short-Term Effects of Gambling Addiction
For those seeking an instant thrill, gambling is one of the best vices. This is the most common short-term effect, and the ‘thrill’ or rush of euphoria felt immediately after placing a bet commonly increases the higher the stakes are. But these once pleasurable feelings can often lead to complications for problem gamblers which include:
- Panic/ anxiety attacks
- High blood pressure
- In serious cases: stroke, seizures, and heart attack
When the gambler is lucky, a rush of serotonin and norepinephrine are released as chemicals in the brain after a win. This creates short-term happiness and pleasure – which soon dissipates when the gambler loses. In fact, when a gambler is so enticed in a game that results in a loss, the negative effects on the chemical compounds in the brain can be severe.
The feeling of despair can lead to:
- Anxiety attacks
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated blood pressure
- Loss of emotional control
Long-Term Effects of Gambling Addiction
One of the main reasons it has taken society so long to recognise gambling as an addiction and not a sign of moral failure is the nature of the addiction: behavioural. There are no physical traces of addiction on the body, and no drug tests to conclude the presence of abuse.
But in truth, there are a number of chemical alterations going on in the brain. The changes in the brain’s reward response following heavy gambling also result in lowered inhibitions, and a stronger need and tolerance to ‘self-medicate.’ This is why many people who gamble often have co-occurring disorders such as alcoholism or drug addiction.
Gambling addiction and suicide are unfortunately two overlapping concepts, as the loss of control over one’s behaviours, finances, and life become too much for some. Theft, fraud and other illicit money-making means are also some of the long-term effects of gambling addiction, which could lead to legal and penal repercussions.
The Do’s and Don’ts For Partners With Gambling Problems
It’s difficult to know what to do and how to act when you’re trying to help someone with a gambling addiction. So below we have set out some do’s and don’ts for those helping their partner with their gambling problems:
WHAT TO DO
- Make sure you’re calm and cool when you approach your partner to talk about their behaviour and its consequences
- Don’t go it alone: there are plenty of support groups and self-help platforms online, like Gam-Anon
- Ensure your partner knows you love them, and that you are looking for help due to the effects of their gambling on their own health and the family’s
- If you have children, explain to them in an appropriate way what your partner’s addiction means
- Be confident when taking over the family’s finances and closely look at bank statements and credit card bills
- Keep up with the encouragement and support to your loved one during this difficult time
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Get angry, talk at them instead of to them
- Forget they have many positive attributes
- Punish them by stopping them from taking part in normal, fun, family things
- ‘Bail them out’ when they need it financially
- Be a cover or a bluff for them
Professional Treatment For Gambling Addiction
Admitting you need help isn’t easy – that being said, neither is carrying on the life of lies and anxiety that gambling addiction incurs. You should take confidence and pride in going to your doctor and asking for help, because in this, you are taking control of your own life again.
Your gambling addiction treatment options include:
1. Inpatient/ residential gambling rehab – these programmes are tailored towards those who are deep in the throes of gambling addiction, who need constant surveillance and support
2. Dual-diagnosis treatment – this involves talking to one of our therapists to discover if there are any underlying conditions that contribute towards your gambling addiction. These can include substance abuse, bi-polar, depression, ADHD, or OCD
3. Cognitive behavioural therapy – this treatment revolves around you working with a therapist to change your feelings, thoughts and behaviours. CBT equips you with the tools you need to face your demons, settle your moral debts, and work towards a more pragmatic and calm future
4. Family therapy, couples therapy, and financial advice – these types of therapy are all about repairing the damage caused by your problem gambling.
Which Type Of Treatment Is Right For Me?
Ultimately, this decision is down to you, your partner, or your family. Each case is unique, and depend upon a variety of factors including the intensity of your addiction, how long you have been gambling for, if you are a risk to yourself, or if you are struggling with a co-occurring disorder.
Those who know they would have trouble staying away from betting shops or online casinos would be better off at an inpatient facility. Here, the right levels of support can be provided at all times. Residential treatment is also the best option for those wishing to begin treatment immediately,
Alternative Hobbies to Gambling
There are many reasons people gamble, but there are also healthier alternatives. Below we have listed some activities which you can substitute fir gambling:
- For the excitement: start mountain biking, climbing mountains and rocks, or join a sports team
- For the social aspect: volunteer, plan a family vacation, join a social club
- Self-medication: try therapy, self-help resources, or try meditating
- Boredom: find your passion again whether that’s music, art, gardening, animal therapy, pool or golf
- Unwind after a stressful day: try running, cooking, listening to music
Common Misconceptions About Gambling Addiction
It’s easy to apply preconceptions or beliefs that were instilled in us growing up to those who are struggling with an addiction. That’s whether it’s a substance-related or behavioural one. But below we have listed some frequent myths about gambling addicts and problem gamblers that are not true:
- Problem gamblers gamble or bet every day: gambling becomes a problem when it’s the catalyst of other problems
- If the gambler has the money, then gambling isn’t a problem: it’s not just about money, but mental health, legal issues, work and relationships
- A gambling problem isn’t a mental disorder – it’s just having no control, willpower, or morals: like any other addiction, gambling affects strong and intelligent people too
- Problem gamblers are only that way because of their partners: blame is not the answer
- If you can help a problem gambler out of debt, you should: it may seem like a quick fix but bailing them out may only cause more problems
Getting Help Today
At ADT Healthcare, we are committed to your health & recovery. Trusting us to put you in touch with the best suited treatment will be the best decision of your life.
Call us for free today on 0800 138 0722 for more information.