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Gambling Addiction: Effects, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

A gambling addiction begins once an individual turns a harmless activity into an unhealthy obsession. However, it is important to remember that if an individual partakes in frequent gambling, it does not automatically make them addicted.

There are multiple factors that may contribute to the development of a gambling addiction, such as the constant desire for more money or prizes, the rush often associated with the thrill of betting, and the overall atmosphere of the gambling scene.

What Is a Gambling Addiction?

A gambling addiction is an uncontrollable urge to continue gambling despite the toll it takes on one’s life. Psychiatrists used to define gambling as a compulsion instead of an addiction because of the intense mental urges that were experienced by an individual — rather than the desire for a physical need. However, experts have since discovered that gambling addiction is similar to drug and alcohol addiction.

Gambling addiction statistics show that:

  • People with a history of alcohol abuse are 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with a gambling addiction.
  • About five in every 100 gamblers have a gambling addiction diagnosis.
  • 750,000 individuals ages 14 to 21 are addicted to gambling.
  • However, most people who have a gambling addiction diagnosis are ages 20 to 30.
  • 34% of those who seek gambling addiction treatment are diagnosed with PTSD.
  • Out of 517 adults studied, 93 (18%) of them declared bankruptcy due to gambling.

Gambling addiction is also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, or gambling disorder.

What Causes Gambling Addictions?

It’s difficult to come up with the exact causes of gambling addiction. However, some specialists believe that the combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors may play a role. Other risk factors such as the ones listed below play a role in the addiction as well.

  • Age: Individuals who gamble during their childhood or teenage years increase their risk of developing an addiction to gambling. Even though compulsive gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people, older adults may also develop an addiction.
  • Certain personality characteristics: Certain personality traits such as being a workaholic, impulsive, often restless, or easily bored may increase your risk of becoming a compulsive gambler.
  • Family or friend influence: Chances of an individual developing a gambling disorder are greater if their friends or family have one as well.
  • Medications: Drugs called dopamine agonists — often used to treat Parkinson’s Disease and restless leg syndrome — have a rare side effect that may result in compulsive behaviors, including but not limited to gambling.
  • Mental health disorders: People who are diagnosed as pathological gamblers often are diagnosed with substance abuse disorders, personality disorders, depression, and/or anxiety. Gambling addiction may also be associated with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Sex: Even though women typically start gambling later on in life and may become addicted more quickly, gambling addiction is more common in men.

Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction

It can be difficult to identify a gambling addiction, however, when you know what signs and symptoms to look for, it can make the diagnosis easier.

  • An individual who might have a compulsive gambling issue often depends on others for money to spend on their addiction.
  • The individual tends to experience a variety of problems within both their personal and professional relationships due to their possible addiction.
  • The individual may turn to gambling as a way to relieve stress, anxiety, or any other issues and complications they’re facing.
  • The person may feel the need to gamble with large sums of money to feel a sense of excitement.
  • Signs such as restlessness or irritability may occur when the person is attempting to stop gambling.
  • The individual makes repeated and unsuccessful attempts to stop, control, or reduce how often they gamble.
  • Gambling or attempting to incorporate gambling into plans may consume the thoughts of the individual.
  • Despite losing money, those who are addicted to gambling may return time and time again to continue gambling.
  • Individuals might lie or get frustrated when confronted with their addiction.
  • In some cases, people diagnosed with a gambling addiction may even steal money or possessions to support their addiction.

Gambling Addiction Prevention

Any addiction can be prevented with proper acknowledgment of the different warning signs and symptoms. Gambling addiction specifically can be prevented by implementing the following tips.

  • Find an alternative: Instead of turning to gambling to relieve stress and anxiety, individuals with a possible compulsive gambling disorder should research alternative ways to relieve stress that are healthy and beneficial. This could involve exercise, spending time with those who don’t gamble, learning a new hobby, and even meditation.
  • Establish a support system: This could be beneficial, especially for those who feel as if they are forming an addiction. By reaching out to people you trust ahead of time, you can ask for advice before the addiction escalates.
  • Be aware of signs and symptoms of addiction: It is important for an individual to educate themselves on the different signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction. By doing so, they can recognize what’s happening and slow down or completely stop gambling before they unintentionally take it to the next level.
  • Understand your limits: Only you are able to determine how much is too much gambling. If it gets to the point where you are showing signs of addiction, then it may be time to seek an alternative form of entertainment.

Effects of a Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction not only affects the individual diagnosed with the addiction, but also their loved ones, and even their community. Some of the effects of a gambling addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Emotional neglect and abandonment of children when their parents are consumed by the addiction.
  • Parents diagnosed with a gambling addiction may angrily lash out at their children.
  • Children of those diagnosed with a gambling addiction are at higher risk of experiencing their own addictions later on.
  • Individuals diagnosed with a gambling addition show an increased amount of problems with both their immediate and extended family members.
  • Financial devastation, often from going to extreme measures to get money to gamble.
  • The risk of losing your job on bad terms, making it potentially difficult to find new employment once you’ve been fired.
  • Increased mental and physical health problems such as the risk of substance abuse and alcoholism, self-harm, and even suicide.
  • Job loss creates an increase in the community’s unemployment rates.
  • Those deep within their addiction may commit crimes such as check fraud and forgery, robbery, and in extreme cases, murder.

Treating a Gambling Addiction

Individuals who may have a gambling addiction need to receive a proper diagnosis before they receive treatment. The diagnosis should be conducted by a health professional and can involve:

  • Asking questions related to their gambling habits;
  • Reviewing the patient’s medical information;
  • Conducting a psychiatric assessment;

Once the addiction has been diagnosed by a medical professional, the treatment process can now begin. There are many ways to treat compulsive gambling.

  1. Medications: Different medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help the problems that are often associated with compulsive gambling. Comorbidities may include depression, OCD, and ADHD. The antidepressants might reduce gambling behavior, whereas medications such as narcotic antagonists may be used in treating substance abuse and compulsive gambling.
  2. Self-help groups: For some, expressing how they feel to others — especially those who share their same problems — may be a helpful treatment option. Individuals can ask their health providers for more information on finding different self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous.
  3. Therapy: Behavior or cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial for those diagnosed with a gambling addiction. Behavior therapy uses systematic exposure to the behavior an individual wants to unlearn, and teaches the necessary skills needed to reduce their urge to gamble. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational, and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy and positive ones. If a family is severely affected by an individual’s addiction, they may find family therapy sessions to be helpful as well.

Financial Recovery After Addiction

It can be difficult for an individual to regain financial stability after experiencing the consequences of a gambling addiction. However, it is possible, with help from the following money-earning tips.

  • Apply for a gig job: If you are already employed, applying for a gig job can help bring in additional income. These jobs may include, but aren’t limited to, being a writer, graphic designer, translator, transcriber, rideshare driver, dog walker, and a handyman.
  • Consolidate your debt: This is a method often used by consumers to get a better understanding of their debt. Consolidating your debt may help you get back on your feet, knowing you have a plan of action to pay it off. Once you consolidate your debt, it’s important to keep a close eye on your financial situation to prevent any further issues from happening.
  • Create a budget: Creating a budget is important because it will allow you to reach specific financial goals through a set plan of action. It also allows you to gain better control over your finances and save money for future situations. You’ll gain peace of mind knowing where your finances are going.
  • Invest: To make additional cash, you may want to consider investing your money in different low-risk investment vehicles such as exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, index funds, and bonds.
  • Sell unwanted items: Host a garage sale by going through your home and selling unwanted items. This is beneficial because not only can it put additional cash into your wallet, but it rids your home of clutter as well.

Additional Resources

Aside from the resources above, those with a gambling disorder can use the following resources to help them conquer their addiction.

  • Addictive Behaviors Laboratory – University of Calgary: The Addictive Behavior Laboratory (ABL) in Calgary, Canada focuses on gambling addiction and substance abuse. They investigate the clinical condition of pathological gambling and potential treatment approaches.
  • Don’t Bet Yet: DBY helps parents educate their children about the dangers of gambling and how to stay away from it by providing a variety of resources such as books, posters, worksheets, and activities.
  • Gamblers Anonymous: Gamblers Anonymous is a “fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.”
  • Gambling Court: This is a resource that takes a therapeutic, intervention and rehabilitative approach within the criminal justice system and under judicial supervision, for defendants who commit non-violent crimes because of a gambling addiction.
  • Gambling Treatment and Research Center: Here, gamblers can learn how to gamble for fun without it turning into an addiction.
  • Gemini Research: Gemini Research is an international organization that specializes in managing and reporting on studies of gambling and problem gambling within different communities.
  • Get Gambling Facts: Get Gambling Facts is a site that provides information and basic facts about gambling for gamblers, enabling them to make informed gambling choices.
  • Know the Odds: This site raises awareness about problem gambling, strives to prevent addiction from affecting community members, and helps those who are currently suffering from problem gambling.
  • National Center for Responsible Gaming: The NCRG is the only national organization exclusively devoted to funding research that helps increase understanding of gambling disorder and youth gambling. The NCRG is also dedicated to finding effective methods of treatment for the disorder.
  • The National Council on Problem Gambling – Help By State: Here, individuals are able to seek help based on the state they live in. However, the information compiled by the NCPG is intended to be a starting point for individuals to learn more about problem gambling and is not a complete list of information or services.
  • New York Responsible Gambling Hub: Provides a variety of materials to help those with a gambling addiction; for example, resources on best practices and prevention, self-exclusion, responsible gambling, underage gambling, and problem gambling.
  • You(th) Decide NY: At You(th) Decide NY they are dedicated to providing resources to the youth, parents, and the community to educate them on gambling. It teaches parents and guardians different ways to bring up the conversation of gambling with their children and talks about why gambling is a problem for teens.
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