Gambling addiction can be among the most destructive forms of addiction. If untreated, problem gambling can cause serious damage to a person’s livelihood, finances, and relationships.
Despite this, gambling addiction is often overlooked – and many people who need help do not access it. This blog offers some information about the nature of gambling addiction and how we can treat it.
What Is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction is when you compulsively gamble despite the negative consequences. Gambling addicts find it hard to stop gambling, even when it leads to serious financial problems, damaged relationships, and mental health concerns. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies gambling addiction as a severe form of gambling disorder.
How Is Enjoying Gambling Different from Gambling Disorder?
Gambling can take many forms – online gambling, sports betting, and the lottery. Millions of people across the UK engage in some kind of gambling every year.
However, most people who gamble do not have a gambling disorder. Recreational gamblers usually make conscious decisions to gamble and feel in control of their gambling behavior.
On the other hand, compulsive gamblers often go to extreme lengths to continue gambling. This may involve spending their savings, borrowing money, liquidating their assets, or even stealing. Adults with gambling disorders may do this in full awareness that they are destroying their livelihood – but feel unable to stop gambling.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Addiction?
Sometimes it’s not clear whether someone has a gambling problem or simply enjoys gambling. In the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association lists nine signs and symptoms of pathological gambling that psychiatrists and psychologists use to provide diagnoses.
Remember that while it can tempting to self-diagnose, only a mental health professional can offer a reliable assessment of mental health conditions.
The DSM-5 signs and symptoms of problem gambling are:
- the need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to experience the desired rush
- feeling restless or irritable when trying to cut down on excessive gambling
- making repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop gambling
- being preoccupied with thoughts about gambling
- using gambling as a coping mechanism for feelings of distress
- returning to gambling to “get even” after losing money gambling
- lying to family and friends hide the extent of gambling
- having lost or risked losing a significant relationship or job because of gambling
- relying on others to provide funds to cover losses from a gambling habit
How Does Gambling Addiction Develop?
A growing body of scientific research suggests that gambling addictions develop much like substance addictions – by affecting the brain’s reward system.
The reward pathway is a natural part of how the brain works, reinforcing life-preserving behaviours such as eating and sex. When you engage in these behaviours, your brain releases a small amount of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure and makes you want to repeat the activity.
Like many pleasurable activities, gambling causes a release of dopamine – and the desire to repeat the activity. Sometimes, when someone continues to engage in gambling, it causes physical changes to the reward system so that the urge to gamble becomes stronger and stronger. This can lead to compulsive gambling and gambling addiction.
How Should We Conceptualise Behavioral Addictions?
Gambling addiction is a type of behavioural addiction – when a person engages in a behaviour despite negative consequences for their well-being. While it is clear gambling problems and other behavioural disorders share many similarities to substance abuse issues, there is extensive debate amongst the scientific community about whether we should conceptualize these disorders like addiction.
Some scientists hold that addictions can only relate to a psychoactive substance, and we should consider behavioural disorders a type of impulse control disorder. Currently, gambling disorder is the only type of compulsive behavior recognized as a behavioural addiction in the DSM-5.
How Can You Treat Gambling Disorder?
The good news is that gambling addiction can be treated much like drug or alcohol addiction. This means that problem gamblers can benefit from a variety of evidence-based treatment options based on decades of scientific research.
Gambling addiction treatment usually involves three main forms of intervention -psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.
Psychotherapy is a broad term that encompasses several different approaches. One of the most common is cognitive-behavioural therapy, an evidence-based therapy that helps a gambling addict to identify unhelpful thought and behavioural patterns and change them into healthy ones. Gamblers may also try motivational interviewing, which aims to change ambivalence about quitting gambling into motivation to quit.
Psychotherapy can take place individually or in a group. Many treatment providers also offer couples therapy and family therapy to help heal damaged relationships while promoting strong and stable support systems.
Research into behavioural disorders like gambling disorders is still relatively new, and there is not currently any recommended medication for gambling disorders. However, research has shown some medications used in substance abuse treatment to support gambling addiction recovery.
Randomised clinical trials have shown that opioid antagonists such as naltrexone are superior to placebo when offered as part of a gambling disorder treatment programme. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may help reduce both anxiety and the severity of gambling in clients with co-occurring gambling and anxiety disorders. Similarly, research has shown the mood stabiliser lithium to decrease both mania and severity of gambling in those with co-occurring gambling and bipolar disorders.
Support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous are self-organised meetings of people in recovery from gambling disorders. Support groups are an opportunity to share advice, take inspiration from others, and find comfort in shared experiences. Support groups are usually free, local, and easy to access, providing a reliable and sustainable source of recovery support.
Seeking Addiction Treatment
While confronting a gambling problem can be scary, it is usually the first step in the recovery process. Reaching out for help opens the door to the professional treatment and comprehensive support you need to overcome a gambling problem and rebuild your life.
The Revoke Programme
The Revoke Programme offers bespoke mental health and behavioural health treatment programmes to offer provide the therapeutic support you need to manage the problems you face. We offer individualised and tailored treatment that considers your various needs, addressing multiple issues with both cohesion and precision.
At Revoke, we understand that many of our clients lead busy lives. Our programmes fit around your daily schedule, allowing you to balance home and work responsibilities alongside treatment. We aim to make recovery as accessible as possible to offer everyone the chance to reach their full potential.
Our evidence-based programmes offer a range of treatment modalities, including:
- Individual sessions with a specialised therapist
- Customised treatment plans for neurodiverse clients
- Guided group therapy sessions
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dual diagnosis
- Comprehensive aftercare
- Targeted trauma treatment
- A wide range of sober meet-ups, events and nights out
Our treatment programmes guide clients through three modules: behaviour, trauma and mental health, and life and relationships. Throughout these modules, we focus on self-awareness, coping strategies, meaningful change, and a sense of purpose. We aim to facilitate holistic and long-lasting improvements that help you to become the best version of yourself.
While recovery can seem daunting, we’re here to facilitate the process from beginning to end. Contact us today for a consultation.