Topic At One Glance
If gambling did not have some appealing qualities, it is doubtful that anyone would ever become addicted to it. The earliest record of humans engaging in this type of activity goes all the way back to 2300 BC, so it would need to have had some attractive aspects to have lasted so long.
Why do people like to gamble?
It is usually the chance of winning some money that first attracts people to gambling. The possibility of a bit of extra cash without it requiring much effort can be incredibly enticing. Those individuals who have a bit of ‘beginner’s luck’ usually feel motivated to repeat the experience, but even people who don’t start off on a winning streak can decide to keep playing because of the excitement and entertainment value.
The dangers of gambling
Long-term gamblers usually have other reasons for continued engagement in this activity. It can be a way of relaxing at the end of the day, and it can also offer the opportunity to socialise. Those who later go on to develop a gambling addiction will often start to use it to escape their problems – like all other addictions, it becomes a form of escapism.
When gambling becomes a problem
Most people who gamble do not become addicted just as most people who drink alcohol don’t become alcoholic. It can be a relatively harmless pastime so long as people never gamble with more money than they can afford to lose, avoid chasing losses and don’t allow it to interfere with their family, work, and social commitments. It starts to become a problem when the negative effects of this activity begin to outweigh the positive.
What is the definition of gambling addiction?
There are various definitions of gambling addiction, but the one that is most often cited is provided by Rosenthal RJ:
A progressive disorder characterised by a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling; a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money with which to gamble; irrational thinking; and a continuation of the behaviour despite adverse consequences.
Like other types of addiction, it is considered a brain disorder by the experts, so it is not due to the individual being bad, weak-willed, or lacking in intelligence.
What’s the Difference between a Gambling Problem, Compulsive Gambling, and Gambling Addiction?
The terms ‘gambling addiction’, ‘compulsive gambling’ and ‘gambling problem’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but these descriptions can be referring to different behaviours:
A gambling problem is where an individual has started to experience some negative effects due to the behaviour but has not yet become addicted. In some cases, it may be possible to eliminate the negative effects with some simple behavioural change techniques.
A gambling addiction (gambling disorder) is when the individual had developed a physical and psychological dependence (see symptoms of gambling addiction below).
Compulsive gambler is the description preferred by Gamblers Anonymous, and it refers to any individual who feels they have lost control over their gambling.
What is a gambling addict?
The simplest way to describe a gambling addict would be someone who continues to gamble despite obvious negative consequences. People in this situation will usually have a history of repeated attempts at change (which may last days, weeks, or months) but there is an inability to stay away from gambling long-term. Those caught up in addiction often experience times when they sincerely wish to quit, but the changes that have occurred to the brain due to the disorder make this difficult without professional help.
Warning signs other than financial problems
Important. It is not only people who develop financial problems due to gambling who should be concerned about the behaviour. If gambling is getting in the way of your family, job, or other commitments, this too can be a sign of addiction.
What are the symptoms of gambling addiction?
Here are some of the most common symptoms people experience when they have developed a gambling problem. You don’t have to have all (or even most) of these symptoms to be considered addicted:
What is the Cause of Gambling Addiction?
The exact cause of gambling addiction is not yet fully understood, but it is likely to involve both environmental and genetic factors. It has been suggested that the behaviour is closely linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and arises due to problems with impulse control.
How Prevalent is Problem Gambling? – Gambling Addiction Statistics
Gambling is a huge problem worldwide. In the US, there are said to be up to 6 million problem gamblers (Source: National Council on Problem Gambling) with 2 million of these considered ‘pathological gamblers’. There are believed to be around 620,000 people in the UK in need of some of treatment or counselling related to gambling, and it costs the economy over 100 million a year. It is difficult to determine the exact worldwide statistics for gambling problems but a report by Society for the Study of Addiction abstract suggests the prevalence is around 1.5%.
Gambling Addicts are usually unaware of the harm they’re causing
It can be soul-destroying to watch someone you care about who seems committed to a path of self-destruction due to a gambling addiction. The situation is even more overwhelming when the effects of this behaviour impact you directly due to financial problems or dishonest behaviour.
Those who are caught up in this type of addiction are usually unaware of how much harm their behaviour is causing. Evidence of the problem may be obvious to other people, but the addicted brain is able to use denial to ignore these signs. This can make it difficult to get a loved one dealing with a gambling addiction to accept the severity of the situation.
How Do I Help Someone with Gambling Addiction Problem?
The priority when dealing with someone who has developed a gambling problem is to protect yourself. Those who are caught up in addiction can be good at manipulation, and they may try to shift the blame for the behaviour onto other people (e.g. “if you didn’t complain so much, I wouldn’t need to gamble to unwind”). Remember – you are not responsible for this person’s behaviour.
One of the keys to helping somebody with a gambling problem is to learn as much as you can about the condition. You will find plenty of information online, but it is also useful to seek advice from organisations like Gambler’s Anonymous (Gam-Anon) or to speak with a counsellor.
It can take several attempts before a person can commit to long-term recovery
While it is true that real recovery begins when the individual becomes willing to change, there can be some benefit in pressurising someone into getting help. This can be done by giving an ultimatum (e.g. “if you don’t get help, you need to leave”). It is not uncommon for those who felt initially pushed into rehab to develop insight into their situation and subsequently develop the motivation to change because of the program.
It sometimes takes multiple attempts before the person can commit to long-term recovery. This can be disheartening for loved ones who must deal with hope being transformed into disappointment. It is understandable when loved ones become so discouraged that they see the situation as hopeless, but so long as the person keep trying to change, there is a high likelihood of lasting recovery.
Tips for dealing with a loved one who has a gambling problem
What are the Signs of a Gambling Addiction?
Here are some of the possible signs you may observe if a family member or friend is dealing with a gambling problem:
Can I Learn to Control My Gambling?
The idea of giving up something that has been such a significant part of your life can be incredibly intimidating. The reality is once you have become addicted to something, it can be almost impossible to return to a healthy relationship with it. Your brain has developed strong associations within its rewards circuitry, and once these connections are formed, they can still become reactivated even after decades of not being used.
The fact we would want to continue with something that has been causing us so much harm is a further sign of addiction. When we consider the harm already caused by gambling, why would we take the risk of failure by holding on to the possibility of control?
Why complete abstinence is the best choice
Complete abstinence from gambling offers you the best hope of a better life. We urge you to choose this option and commit fully to it. If you continue to hold onto the possibility of learning to control your gambling, you are unlikely to have sufficient motivation to build a strong recovery. The good news is that if you do commit to this new life, you can become someone who ‘doesn’t want to gamble’ rather than someone who ‘isn’t able to gamble’.
Do I have an Addictive Personality?
It is usually the case that those who have a gambling problem are also at high risk of developing other addictions. Cross-addiction is the term used to describe giving up one addiction only to become hooked on something else. Even if you have never had a problem with alcohol or other drugs, there is a danger of you abusing these after you quit gambling.
How do I Overcome a Gambling Addiction Problem?
The first step to overcoming any type of addiction is recognising that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. This can’t happen until you feel ready, to be honest with yourself.
If you answer yes to these questions, you almost certainly need to change.
Overcoming the Denial is just the First Step
Unfortunately, overcoming the denial that keeps you trapped in addiction is usually not enough by itself to allow you to escape. There are going to be alterations to the way your brain operates (e.g. cravings) that can work against your desire to change. It is therefore likely you are going to need some support to achieve lasting recovery.
The Benefits of an Inpatient Rehab Treatment for Gambling Addiction
An inpatient rehab program can work as well for obsessive gambling as it can for any other type of addiction. It means you will be fully supported as you progress through the early stages of your recovery. You will also pick up effective coping strategies, so you no longer feel the need to gamble to cope with life. There are likely to be underlying reasons for why you turned to this behaviour in the first place, and a therapist can help you deal with these during your stay.
Fear-based motivation is usually not enough for long-term recovery
Important advice about motivation. Some people becoming willing to get help for their gambling when faced with ultimatums or consequences. This type of fear-based motivation can be useful in the short-term, but quitting for other people or doing it to avoid repercussions is usually not enough for long-term recovery. It is therefore vital that you develop a more personal and positive reason to be in recovery (e.g. the desire to have a better life).
What are My Gambling Addiction Treatment Options?
There is of yet no single cure for gambling addiction that seems to work for everyone. This means there is more likelihood of success when there is a combination of approaches offered as part of a program rather than a ‘one size fits all’ prescription. The approaches that have been shown to be effective (and that we offer at Hope Rehab) include:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Problem Gambling
CBT is an evidenced-based approach where clients are learning to deal with problems by changing the way they think and behave. The tools of CBT can help the individual deal with psychological processes supporting gambling such as cognitive distortions (e.g. bias attribution and magical thinking) and relapse triggers.
Mindfulness for Gambling Addiction
Mindfulness is an approach that involves changing our relationship to thoughts and emotions. It means developing a more objective relationship with the inner forces that drive addictive behaviour.
Here at Hope, we explain how mindfulness for gambling addiction works this way:
Your brain has been unintentionally tricking you due to your addiction, and so you have been engaging in activities that are against your overall best interests. For this trick to work, it depends on you acting upon certain cravings without resistance. Mindfulness helps you see that the only power these cravings have is your reaction to them – if you don’t react, these thoughts fueling the addiction just pass through the mind like clouds passing through the sky.
Mindfulness can also help you deal better with stress, anxiety, and the negative thinking that trigger the pull towards maladaptive coping strategies like gambling.
12 Step Approach for Compulsive Gambling
Gamblers Anonymous is a self-help group that uses a spiritual approach known as the 12 Steps to achieve freedom from addiction and serenity. It means the individual does not have to face the challenge of recovery alone, and it provides the opportunity to be supported by those who understand the addiction from first-hand experience.
8 Gambling Addiction Myths
If the answer is yes to any of the above, please feel free to contact the team here at Hope Rehab via the contact form below:
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