One of the most overlooked and misunderstood addictions out there is gambling addiction. Whether it be lottery tickets, scratch offs, trips to the casino, internet poker or sports betting, gambling has the potential to destroy someone’s life if they’re not careful.
Problem gambling is a common issue that many have to deal with. Statistically, three to five gamblers out of every hundred struggle with severe gambling compulsions and/or addiction and over 80 percent of North American adults gamble on a yearly basis.
As with most addictions, men are more susceptible to becoming addicted than women and they often do so at much younger ages than with other addictions.
Typically, signs of gambling addiction tend to show up early in life, usually in someone’s 20s or 30s. Recent research also shows evidence of college students developing gambling issues with an estimated six percent of students admitting to gambling issues. In fact, nearly 40 percent of gambling addicts started before the age of 17.
Gambling is often characterized as an uncontrollable urge despite the serious personal consequences that might come about from those actions. This addiction can impact interpersonal relationships, physical and mental health and, of course, finances.
In fact, recent neurological research on gambling addiction has concluded that, based on symptoms and effects in our brains, it is incredibly similar to drug and alcohol addiction and has only recently been recognized as an actual addiction.
Problem gambling has been classified as a psychiatric disorder since 1980, termed “pathological gambling” and classified as an impulse control disorder like kleptomania and pyromania.
Gambling addiction might be on the verge of another classification change as well. Recently, scientists and mental health professionals have been pushing to classify gambling problems as a behavioral addiction.
How to Tell If You Have A Gambling Problem
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling approximately 2 to 3 percent of Americans meet the criteria for problem gambling, impacting 6 million American adults and about half a million teens. In the United Kingdon, it is estimated 300,000 people have symptoms of gambling disorder, many of which are men, with close to 540,000 deemed to be at “moderate” risk.
Just like any other addiction on the map, there are some tell-tale signs you can look for when it comes to you or your loved ones having gambling problems.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning how to get more gambling money
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
- Trying to control, cut back or stop gambling, without success
- Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
- Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
- Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
- Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
- Jeopardizing or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
- Resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money
- Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away
If those symptoms and signs look familiar to other addictions like alcohol and drugs, that’s no coincidence. Recent studies have shown that gambling addicts’ brains have the same neurological pathways as drug and alcohol cravings.
The study noted two areas of the brain, the insula and the nucleus accumbens, are just as active in gambling addicts as they are in addicts of chemical substances.
Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, one of the study’s co-authors and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic in England, reinforced the toll that gambling addiction can take on people, their families and their finances.
Bowden-Jones concluded that “gambling addiction can have a devastating effect not just on patients, but also their families. It can result in people losing their job, and leave families and children homeless.”
According to a study from the Oregon Problem Gambling Resources, between 10 to 17 percent of children and 25 to 50 percent of spouses have been abused by problem gamblers.
In fact, an estimated 50 percent of those affected by gambling problems commit crimes in order to support their addiction, further disrupting their lives.
What Are The Treatment Options For Gambling Addiction?
Statistically, gambling addiction is closely linked with issues like depression, substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder and anxiety disorders, often compounding with and feeding off of those issues.
And, of course, just like any other addiction it’s bound to get worse if not treated.
When it comes to general treatment for people with gambling problems, there are two different options to undergo.
Let’s break those down here.
Whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or another type of behavioral-based therapy method, this is a great option for helping people break down why addicts have the urge to gamble and expose themselves to alternatives for that behavior.
A typical treatment process involves about 20 one-on-one sessions with a therapist or counselor, but that’s highly dependant on the person receiving therapy and the severity of their addiction.
If one-on-one therapy is too personal, you can instead look for therapy options in group settings. Support groups for gambling addicts are common, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble finding one with the help of your mental health professional of choice.
Mood stabilizers and antidepressants have been shown to reduce symptoms and issues associated with gambling addiction, making them a perfectly viable treatment option.
Others might opt for narcotic antagonists, which are drugs specifically made to treat addicts, since they’ve been shown to have some impact on those with gambling issues.
The best type of treatment for those with gambling issues is usually a combination of the two. Using a combination of therapy, either one-on-one or in a group setting, and medications to help your brain deal with those addictive tendencies should help anyone make a go at fighting addiction.