What Is Gambling Addiction?
The unpredictability of winning bets and money from gambling is an exciting activity for many. Everyone from celebrities to retirees indulge in the “fun” risk-taking venture to gain money in the challenging pursuit of thrills. Social attitudes toward gambling are becoming more relaxed; however, rates of gambling addiction are growing.
Problems arise when gamblers struggle to reduce the frequency of their habit. Someone doesn’t have to gamble each day to have a gambling addiction. For example, a person who gambles as a hobby has a cut-off point when they can safely pull away. Someone with a gambling addiction cannot and will not stop despite the consequences of their actions.
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Why Does One Develop a Gambling Addiction?
The emotional rollercoaster of thrill and loss can create an attachment. When someone gambles, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, or “feel good chemicals,” which reward gamblers when they win. Many have compared the feelings associated with gambling to drugs like heroin and alcohol, making it easy to get addicted if left unchecked. Factors that can contribute to an increased risk of gambling addiction include:
- Family history of gambling addiction
- Gender (men are more likely to be gamblers)
- Low serotonin
- Job loss
- Failed attempts to cut down on gambling
- Alcoholism/ substance abuse disorders
- Restless and competitive personalities
- Dependence on gambling to ease stress
In order to determine if a gambling addiction is present, diagnosticians look at gambling behavior over the course of 6 months to a year.
Gambling and Mental or Emotional Disorders
There are connections between mental health disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and depression with gambling addiction (co-occurring disorders). Someone with bipolar disorder may cycle through manic and depressive stages while gambling, further complicating their attachment. Obsessive compulsive disorder can worsen for someone who gambles, as they risk becoming more anxious and preoccupied with gambling.
Individuals with gambling addictions may turn to alcohol to ease the anxiety of lost money and broken relationships. Statistics inform us individuals who abuse alcohol are nearly 25 times more likely to gamble. Individuals with PTSD have a higher gambling risk compared to the general population as well. With these co-occurring conditions, gamblers may turn to substances to alleviate their symptoms.
Just a Fun Compulsion or Gambling Addiction?
There are different tiers of gambling ranging from social or recreational gambling to compulsive or pathological gambling. Social gamblers gamble less often and for recreation. The losses are reasonable or calculated, and they can pull back without risking too much money. Compulsive gambling (or pathological gambling) occurs when the gambler cannot control their gambling or spends too much time and/or money gambling.
Compulsive gambling can transition into what experts consider gambling addiction or problematic gambling. According to the American Psychiatric Association, results of gambling addiction can include:
- Anxiety over gambling
- Hiding gambling passion from others
- Guilt with gambling
- Poor health
- Poor impulse control
- Prioritizing gambling over other commitments
- Relationship problems
- Craving excitement through gambling
- Spending long hours gambling
- Borrowing money to support gambling habits
- Inability to reduce gambling practices
- Using gambling to avoid or escape problems
Pathological gamblers may have delusions about gambling, which may encourage their addictions, in addition to compulsive gambling traits.
Why Treatment May Be What You Need
If you or a loved one has a gambling addiction, it is not too late to get help. Gambling can wreak havoc on the gambler’s life and the life of loved ones. The end result usually creates financial problems and mental preoccupation. If you cannot control your addiction, intervention or treatment may be the next steps forward.