Gambling addiction is a process addiction in which the individual cannot stop gambling. The affected individual may spend hours or days gambling, and their entire life is affected by this activity.
According to psychcentral.com, more then 3 million American adults are addicted to gambling. An estimated 15 million more are problem gamblers, meaning they might not be addicted yet, but the activity is already beginning to disrupt and control their lives.
Gambling is becoming a common past time in the United States. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately 85% of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their lives; 60% in the past year. While many people are able to gamble occasionally and do so responsibly, others become hooked so quickly that they become addicted to it.
Gambling addiction is a silent disease, because many times even those close to the individual are not aware that they have a problem. It is not until the person loses large amounts of money or loses control of their addiction that the problem becomes evident. Stories of lives devastated by gambling addiction are disheartening. Individuals, including housewives, high powered executives, and blue collared workers, have lost millions of dollars because of their gambling addiction.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
Someone who is addicted to gambling will think about gambling all the time. Their life will revolve around it. Their normal daily activities will be disrupted by gambling. Much like someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the problem gambler will crave the activity, and other things in life will not seem as important any more.
For a gambling addict, the act of gambling will produce a feeling of euphoria, just like a drug addict feels when they get high. For these individuals, the feeling of winning a high stakes game is better than anything else they can experience. When they lose large amounts of money and feel low or depressed, only more gambling can satisfy them.
Gambling addiction is characterized by a preoccupation with gambling, loss of control when gambling, and a withdrawal from the person’s normal daily commitments. Someone who is addicted to gambling might use this activity to relieve anxiety, to improve their mood, or to ease feelings of depression. Someone with a gambling addiction will frequently pull away from family and loved ones, may lie or try to conceal their gambling, and will experience strained relationships.
The American Psychiatric Association defines pathological gambling as having five or more of the following symptoms:
- Committing crimes to get money to gamble
Feeling restless or irritable when trying to cut back or quit gambling
- Gambling to escape problems or feelings of sadness or anxiety
- Gambling larger amounts of money to try to make back past losses
- Losing a job, relationship, education, or career opportunity due to gambling
- Lying about the amount of time or money spent gambling
- Making many unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit gambling
- Needing to borrow money due to gambling losses
- Needing to gamble larger amounts of money in order to feel excitement
- Spending a lot of time thinking about gambling, such as remembering past experiences or ways to get more money with which to gamble
Treatment for Gambling Addiction
In order for a person to receive help for a gambling addiction, they need to realize and admit they have a problem. Family members may confront their loved one when they can’t account for lost money, or when the addict is gone for long periods of time. Individuals that are suspicious of a loved one’s gambling behavior are encouraged to find professional help right away. Treatment for gambling addiction is effective, but the sooner a person seeks help, the better their chances of full recovery will be.
Treatment for a gambling addiction is often the same as for drug or alcohol addiction. Treatment providers often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps the individual identify and process the reasons behind their actions. Support groups and the 12 steps to recovery are methods that are often successful. An effective treatment plan for gambling addiction will help the person learn how to manage stress, how to rebuild relationships, and how to modify their behavior. In order to prevent relapse, the person must also learn how to manage triggers. The individual should also be screened for drug or alcohol abuse and should receive treatment for other addictions and mental illness that are co-occurring.
There are a number of treatment centers that specialize in treating gambling addiction. Among them are the Ranch, Timberline Knolls, Cottonwood Tuscon, and AlgamusTreatmentCenter. The National Council on Problem Gambling has more resources, as well as Gamblers Anonymous.