Gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value, most often money, with the expectation of getting something of higher value. Also known as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder, a gambling addiction occurs when an individual cannot stop gambling in spite of damaging outcomes. As with drugs and alcohol, gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system and can lead to addiction over time. Someone who is prone to gambling may accumulate debt, chase bets, conceal their behavior, drain their savings, or even resort to illegal activities to support the addiction. A gambling addiction can have severe and lasting effects on the individual and his or her friends and family.
Signs & Symptoms
Compulsive or addictive gambling may include:
- Finding a thrill in taking big risks while gambling
- Seeking out bigger and bigger risks while gambling
- Feeling preoccupied with thoughts of gambling or reliving past experiences
- Using gambling as an escape for other problems, including anxiety or depression
- Avoiding responsibilities such as school, work, or family in order to gamble
- Lying or hiding gambling activities
- Feeling guilty or remorseful after gambling; desiring to cut back or stop gambling altogether but unable to successfully do so
- Borrowing money, going into debt, or stealing in order to continue gambling
How Does Problem Gambling Develop?
For most people, gambling every now and then does not become a bigger problem. It is rare that an individual becomes a compulsive gambler after the first wager. In most cases, a gambling addiction develops and grows over time. The individual may spend years gambling in social situations without having a problem. However, the addition of stress or negative feelings such as anxiety or depression can trigger problem gambling, turning the activity into something that is far more serious. Gambling may become an escape or an unhealthy way of coping with emotions. This may lead to the individual becoming totally preoccupied and dependent on the activity. He or she may feel psychologically and emotionally dependent on gambling. Gambling this way is not necessarily about winning money; it’s more about the excitement and thrill attached to the activity.
Myths About Gambling Addiction
As with most addictions, some people have difficulty understanding why an individual suffering from compulsive gambling cannot simply quit. Unfortunately it’s not that simple; when gambling activates the brain’s reward center, over time it may be more and more difficult for the individual to feel that sense of pleasure or excitement. The result is that quitting means facing up to intense negative emotions. Other commonly-held beliefs about problem gambling are that it has to occur everyday to be a problem or that if the individual can afford it, it’s not a problem. But even if the individual does not gamble every day and hasn’t gone into debt because of gambling, the activity may cause other problems, such as difficulties with a spouse.
There are a number of promising treatment options for individuals who suffer from problem gambling. The first step is admitting that gambling has become a problem and opening your mind to the idea of treatment. There are three distinct types of treatment for gambling addiction, including psychotherapy, medications, and self-help groups. Most often, these three options are combined to form a comprehensive treatment plan based on the individuals needs.