Gambling Addiction

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction refers to people who struggle with impulse control as it relates to gambling. While gambling can be a hobby that does not cause addiction, many people can become addicted to gambling. A person may have a gambling addiction when gambling interferes with their life.

If a person’s career, family, finances, social life or health is affected by a habit of gambling, then they may be struggling with a gambling addiction. A gambling addiction may be present in those who struggle to control their impulse to gamble.

People who are struggling with gambling addiction are not necessarily gambling to make a profit. Winning can create a sensation that is similar to a high. It causes the reward centers of the brain to activate, which can cause a euphoric sensation. This, along with other components, can cause a person to become addicted to gambling.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction does have symptoms that are similar to other types of addictions. Such addictions may include:

These symptoms can be powerful. They are difficult to overcome. Gambling addiction can be particularly challenging because it can be difficult to identify early on. An activity that can start as a hobby or activity can turn into an addiction without an affected person realizing it right away. This is why it is important to know the symptoms and warning signs of gambling addiction.

Symptoms of gambling addiction include:

  • Neglecting responsibilities to gamble
  • Preoccupation with gambling tactics
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop or control gambling activity
  • Gambling to seek a high of winning (and needing to gamble more and more to feel that high)
  • Using gambling as a method of coping with stress or emotional struggle
  • Struggling to stop gambling once started
  • Chasing money that has been lost while gambling to break even
  • Hiding, minimizing, denying or downplaying gambling habit
  • Having strained relationships or career consequences due to gambling habit
  • Missing work due to gambling
  • Borrowing money from others to support gambling habit
  • Hiding financial loss or debt incurred from gambling

Causes of Gambling Addiction

While it is possible for anyone to develop a gambling addiction, there are some factors that may put a person at higher risk. Addiction of any kind can happen to a person unexpectedly. It is important to understand what factors can cause an addiction to gambling and catch the symptoms early.

The factors that can cause a person to become addicted to gambling include:

History of Addiction and Substance Abuse

People who suffer from another form of addiction or substance abuse are at higher risk of suffering from gambling addiction. Addiction comes from a number of personality traits. People who suffer from addiction tend to be impulsive. They tend to not practice consequential thinking. they also may not take measures to avoid problematic situations.

Addicts also tend to be thrill seekers. They will chase a high through acting impulsively and irresponsibly. They become dependent on the high. In the case of a gambling addict, the habit of gambling often comes from the feeling of the high felt when winning money.

Poor Decision Making Skills

People who suffer from gambling addiction tend to have poor decision making skills. They struggle to use consequential thinking, and tend to act impulsively. This causes their judgement to be impaired. A gambling addict may understand that their addiction is causing consequences. They may also justify their gambling with the potential to make great winnings and save or improve their financial situation. With this pattern of thinking, a gambling addict fails to see the damage they cause by chasing winnings. Their judgement and ability to make healthy decisions is also affected by their drive to seek a euphoric high. This high is caused by a release of dopamine in the brain.

A Family History of Gambling Addiction

A person is at higher risk of developing a gambling addiction if they have a family member who also suffers from a gambling addiction. This is due in part to a genetic component that motivates addictive behaviors. It is also due to modeling during upbringing. People who grow up with adults or siblings who also suffer from gambling addiction have addictive behavior modeled for them. This modeling normalizes the addictive behavior. It makes the behavior seem like not a big deal or problematic for children as they grow into adulthood.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a challenging addiction to recover from, but it is not impossible. For highest potential of recovery, it is best for a gambling addict to seek treatment early on in their addiction. This is the case for all addictions, and like all treatment for addiction, recovery is a lifelong process.

Treatment for gambling addiction requires a number of components. A gambling addict in recovery will be expected to remain abstinent from gambling throughout the course of treatment. For many, recovering gambling addicts choose to stay away from any form of gambling throughout the course of their lives.

Along with abstinence, a person who is recovering from gambling addiction will also need to seek mental health services. They will need to meet with a mental health professional to develop a treatment plan. For treatment, the addict in recovery will attend group and individual counseling sessions. They may also be referred to consult with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist would determine if medication could help manage symptoms.

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