Warner Park Recovery Center – Woodland Hills Mental Health

Gambling Addiction

What is Gambling Addiction?

While many people may participate in gambling at times, someone who is addicted to gambling will have the irresistible urge to gamble as often as they are physically able to. This can be a dangerous addiction due to the nature of gambling and will often lead to financial hardship and potential legal trouble. 

Someone addicted to gambling will often be referred to as a pathological gambler or a compulsive gambler. Gambling addiction is a type of impulse control disorder, also commonly referred to as pathological gambling. 

A person should not be considered addicted to gambling only based on how often they gamble. A true compulsive gambler will be unable to stop gambling no matter how hard to attempt to cut back or quit.

A pathological gambler will often be wholly preoccupied with the idea of gambling. If a compulsive gambler cannot actively place bets, they may often talk about past gambling experiences or focus on upcoming gambling opportunities. The financial strain and stigma associated with gambling will often lead compulsive gamblers to hide the extent of their gambling from others. 

A pathological gambler will often be in denial regarding the severity of their problem. Some may have a distorted sense of how often they win, while others may feel close to hitting a winning-streak. If questioned on their habits, a compulsive gambler will often be defensive and avoid disclosing information such as how much money or how often they gamble.

Why is Gambling Addictive?

The effects that gambling has on the human brain are comparable to the effects of addictive drugs. Gambling often causes tension and anxiety during the placement of bets. However, the feeling that a win gives is pure euphoria. In the same way, the brain craves the euphoric feeling that a drug can provide, eventually, the brain craves the feeling a winning bet offers.

Also, like drug addiction, the effects of gambling begin to lessen over time. As someone experiences the highs and lows of gambling more regularly, they become conditioned to it and get less joy out of wins and less anxiety over losses. The problem is that compulsive gamblers still crave that sensation. 

To compensate, pathological gamblers will both bet more often and higher amounts of money. Just as a person with a substance use disorder increases their doses, compulsive gamblers put more money on the line to chase their desired effects. 

Of course, this is incredibly dangerous. Compulsive gamblers will feel the need to increase the amount of money they are betting, even if they do not have the funds available. Quickly, this practice can lead to a compulsive gambler falling into financial ruin. In severe cases, pathological gamblers may feel the need to steal money or take out large, dangerous loans to pay for their habit.

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How to Help Someone with a Gambling Addiction

If you or a loved one are suffering from a gambling addiction, the first step is to realize that this condition is uncontrollable without treatment. Due to the lies that often occur and the financial hardships that often come with a pathological gambling problem, feelings of blame and anger can often surface. However, just like with drug addiction, the family or friends must provide support and help the compulsive gambler realize they need help.

If a compulsive gambler cannot be trusted around money and potentially may have stolen from friends or family in the past, it is vital to set boundaries. You cannot continue to provide a gambler money in the hopes they will suddenly stop gambling. You must protect yourself first, and guarding your finances does play a part in that.

While the family and friends need to be there for support, it is on the compulsive gambler to admit he has a problem and seek help for it at the end of the day. No one can force another person into treatment if they do not want to be there. That is why it is crucial to communicate effectively with someone who has a gambling addiction and explain why it is so important for them to seek help.

If a gambler refuses to acknowledge that they have a problem, an intervention could be a tool that is useful in helping them recognize their addiction. However, it is still crucial to remain supportive, and even during an intervention, it falls on the gambler to admit their problem before they can seek treatment.

How Can Gambling Addiction be Treated?

Interestingly, a pathological gambler will respond far better to a treatment plan usually used for a person suffering from a substance use disorder than they will to a treatment plan used for other impulse control disorders. 

While antidepressants are commonly used to alleviate symptoms associated with impulse control disorders, they have never been effectively used to treat pathological gambling. However, medications used to decrease cravings in people addicted to opioids, for example, have proven to be effective in treating gambling addiction.

Meeting support, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can be immensely beneficial to someone with a gambling addiction. Gamblers Anonymous is a group meeting based on the foundation used in addiction meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Psychotherapy options are usually the basis of any treatment for an impulse control or addiction disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful option in treating gambling addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy works to reframe negative emotions to promote healthier behavior in the future.

Family therapy options are also something that should be considered in the treatment of gambling addiction. The financial and personal burdens associated with pathological gambling can put an immense strain on a family’s relationships. Group or family-based therapy can help heal these relationships.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms associated with pathological gambling, it is vital to seek help. A gambling addiction is dangerous and should not be faced alone. At Warner Park, we are here to help you find the treatment plan that works best for you. Reach out to us today at 866-623-6905 to learn more.

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If you or anyone you know is dealing with issues around mental health or addiction, contact us for a full evaluation and treatment options.  We understand that it is not a process that any individual should tackle alone, and that is why we have a team of qualified personnel who are available to offer you the help you need.