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Gambling Addiction

What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling Addiction

Gambling involves risking something of value, in the hopes of gaining something of greater worth.  Customarily, this involves making financial wagers on games or activities that rely heavily on chance.  Gambling addiction describes an impaired ability to resist the impulse to gamble despite the harmful consequences of participation. These harmful consequences may include: 1) risky, dangerous, or unhealthy behaviors (e.g., borrowing money from unconventional sources); 2) damage to relationships, 3) financial consequences; 4) legal consequences, or 5) a failure to fulfill important life roles such as employee, student, spouse, parent, friend, etc.

Gambling includes a broad range of activities.  Horseracing, lottery tickets, gambling casinos, and online card games are just a few of the most common forms of gambling.  For many people, gambling can be a fun and pleasurable form of entertainment.  Like all addictions, gambling addiction begins in this rat...More

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What is a Gambling Addiction?

  • Gambling addiction describes an impaired ability to resist the impulse to gamble despite the harmful consequences of participation.
  • These harmful consequences may include: 1) risky, dangerous, or unhealthy behaviors (e.g., borrowing money from unconventional sources); 2) damage to relationships, 3) financial consequences; 4) legal consequences, or 5) a failure to fulfill important life roles such as employee, student, spouse, parent, friend, etc.
  • When people develop an addiction, they become addicted to the release of certain brain chemicals. It doesn't matter what causes this release of brain chemicals. It could be a drug or an activity that causes this release.
  • As gambling addiction progresses, a shift begins to occur. At this point, the compulsive aspect of addiction takes hold. Compulsivity is a behavior that an individual feels driven to perform to relieve anxiety.
  • Once a person performs the compulsive behavior, the anxiety goes away and comfort is restored. When this shift occurs, people are no longer gambling for pleasure alone.
  • The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1% of the population has serious gambling problems, with another 2-3% having significant gambling problems.

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What causes a Gambling Addiction?

  • There is no one single cause of gambling addiction. Instead, there are multiple causes that can be grouped into four basic categories.
  • These four categories are: 1) biological causes, 2) psychological causes, 3) socio-cultural causes, and 4) spiritual causes. Psychologists call this the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual Model of addiction.
  • The biological causes of gambling addiction include each person's unique physiology and genetics.
  • Psychologically, people learn to anticipate some benefit from the gambling addiction even though it is harmful. These benefits can include: 1) stress reduction, 2) relief from boredom, 3) pleasurable sensations, 4) coping with negative feelings or situations, or 4) simply the benefit of avoiding withdrawal symptoms.
  • Socio-cultural influences also contribute to the development of gambling addiction as it affords opportunities for pleasing social discourse and interaction.
  • Spirituality is another causal factor that can determine whether an addiction develops and flourishes.

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What are the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction?

  • Gambling addiction is a commonly used term but it is not a diagnostic one. Gambling addiction refers to a specific type of addiction called an activity addiction.
  • It is helpful to recognize that people do not actually become "addicted" to drugs or activities themselves.
  • Instead, people become "addicted" to the effect of those drugs and activities on the brain.
  • A simple way to distinguish between ordinary pleasurable activities and addiction is to consider that when a person continues to engage in a pleasurable activity even thought the negative consequences outweigh the benefits, we can begin to speak of an activity addiction.
  • When an activity takes on a compulsive quality, we can speak of an activity addiction.
  • Gambling activity resembles addiction to alcohol or other drugs when it becomes the primary source of pleasure in life, or replaces other healthy interests (work, relationships, recreation, etc.).
  • Gambling addiction is indicated when someone experiences a reduced control over their behavior despite negative consequences.
  • Examples of these consequences include: arguments with a partner over financial problems due to gambling; losing a job because of using a company computer for gambling; becoming a victim of assault because of failing to pay unconventional loans; and many other health, legal, and financial problems.

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How is a gambling addiction treated?

  • There are four basic approaches to gambling addiction treatment: Biological, Psychological, Socio-Cultural, and Spiritual.
  • People can combine these various approaches to match their individual needs and circumstances as they work to develop their own individualized, custom-tailored approach to recovery.
  • Biological approaches to addictions treatment attempt to correct or modify the presumed underlying biological causes of addiction. According to the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, pathological gambling may be successfully treated using certain medications intended for substance addiction.
  • Psychological approaches to gambling addiction aim to increase a person's motivation for change.
  • In addition to changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, individuals embracing recovery may also need to restructure their social world.
  • Strengthening the motivation for recovery is very helpful. One such approach is called Motivational Interviewing.
  • There are also several effective types of psychotherapy for addictions. These are: Relapse Prevention Therapy; Contingency Management; Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
  • Socio-cultural approaches to addictions recovery emphasize the important influence of social groups on individuals as they attempt to recover. These include: 1) couples and family therapy; 2) educational campaigns that inform the public about gambling addiction; and 3) the social support approach to recovery from gambling addiction.
  • Spiritual approaches to gambling addiction are also effective. The most well-known spiritual approaches to addictions recovery are the 12-step support groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

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