Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder developed by individuals who cannot stop gambling even when this form of entertainment harms their lives. Some of the most common symptoms of gambling addiction include an urge to gamble without thinking about financial and other consequences, restlessness and irritation when trying to control gambling habits, lying to family members to hide gambling activities and more. People with a gambling disorder may experience depression, migraine and other mental problems.
Gambling addiction is a progressive addiction that does not develop overnight, yet certain events and circumstances can trigger a gambling disorder. Some of the triggers or risk factors include retirement, stress, depression and other mental disorders, loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse and an environment that encourages such behaviour. According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one in ten people suffering from gambling disorder seeks treatment. Some of the treatment methods that can help gambling addicts include medications, psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, family counselling, participating in self-help and support groups and more.
It is hard to tell how many gambling addicts are in the world because the majority of those who suffer from this disorder do not want to admit it. According to The Recovery Village Drag and Alcohol Rehab in Umatilla, US, between 0.12% and 5.8% of the world population suffer from gambling addiction. The rates for North America range from 2% to 5%.
The total number of facilities that treat gambling addiction in the world is in the hundreds. Gambling addicts can sign up for programmes at rehab centres that treat patients suffering from substance or alcohol abuse. Problem gamblers can choose from two types of centres, inpatient and outpatient. The first provides patients with 24/7 structured care within the facility. Patients who seek help in outpatient clinics stay at their homes and go to the facility for treatment.
Gambling Addiction Symptoms – What Are They?
The most common symptoms of gambling addiction are listed below:
- Obsession with gambling
- Gambling more than you can afford
- Lying about gambling habits
- Denying that you have a problem
- Feeling restless and irritated when not gambling
- Lack of sleep
- Mood swings
- Trying to cover losses by gambling more
- Gambling to manage stress
- Relationship problems
- Loss of job
To stop gambling, one must first understand and admit that they have a problem. To recognise gambling addiction, the symptoms listed above must be taken seriously.
Gambling Addiction Diagnosis?
The 9 signs of gambling addictions are listed below:
- Uncontrollable urge to gamble
- Changes in behaviour and mood
- Affected performance at work
- Feeling depressed and anxious
- Sleep and eating disorder
- Manipulative behaviour
- Financial problems
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Involvement in illegal activities
If you or someone close to you have experienced any of the signs of gambling addiction within the past 12 months, you should look for treatment. The instructions on how to do it are given below:
- Join a support group
- Find a therapist
- Avoid gambling and find alternatives to it
What Causes Gambling Addiction?
According to Recovery Lighthouse, the Alcohol and Drug Detox and Rehab Clinic in West Sussex, UK, it is not easy to answer this question with certainty because the causes of gambling addiction vary from person to person. The major risk factors for gambling disorder are listed below:
- Early gambling onset and family history
- Emotional trauma and major life changes
- Mental health problems
- Substance abuse
- False expectations
- Financial problems
A person who was brought up in a family where gambling was considered a normal pastime activity or one of their parents suffered from a gambling disorder can develop it themselves later in life. Also, people who start gambling young are more susceptible to having gambling problems.
Emotional trauma can trigger a gambling disorder or lead to mental help problems that can be a risk factor for developing it. A person who is depressed or anxious may gamble to feel better. If they happen to be lucky and hit a big win, it can result in false expectations of gambling. The same goes for people who have financial problems. These people can get hooked on gambling as they believe that this form of entertainment can solve their problems.
Is retirement a premise to gambling addiction?
Yes, retired people can be more vulnerable to gambling addiction. Some researchers have found out that people who experience major life changes or losses can be more susceptible to developing a gambling problem.
In 2009, Social Work Today published an article that cites the findings of Fayetta Martin who researched how gambling addiction was associated with other disorders among older Americans and especially women with and without disabilities. At the time of working on the research, Martin was an assistant professor at Wayne State University. During her research, Martin visited casinos and noticed that the industry had been paying special attention to the elderly, providing them with different incentives to make them feel welcome.
According to Lia Nower, an associate professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who was quoted in the same article, the elderly felt lonely and isolated and gambling helped them overcome these problems. The researcher said some elders did not notice pain and were not preoccupied with their physical discomfort since their minds were disengaged while gambling.
Is stress related to gambling addiction?
Yes, stress can increase the chance of being addicted to gambling. Stressful events are seen as one of the risk factors for gambling disorder, because affected people may start gambling to relieve stress. However, they end up in a vicious circle as a gambling problem makes them feel stressed.
Gambling Addiction Recovery – Ways to Do It
Gambling addiction can be healed with the right treatment. First of all, the person who has developed it must refrain from gambling and quit it for good. Here are the instructions to heal gambling addiction:
- Abstinence: Abstain from gambling and substances of abuse;
- Psychological therapies: Get psychological therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI) or psychoanalysis;
- Medications: Take medications, such as antidepressants or mood stabilisers, if needed;
- Lifestyle changes: Develop a healthy lifestyle and find a creative hobby;
- Support groups: Join support groups like Gamblers Anonymous (GA);
- Residential treatment centres: Go to a residential treatment centre if you feel that you cannot detach from your addictive life.
There are different approaches to gambling addiction treatment. What works for one patient may not work for the other. Psychological therapies can be highly effective as they address the motivations to gamble and seek ways to stop negative behaviour. At the same time, they aim to improve self-control and self-respect. The most common approaches include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, behavioural therapies and family therapy.
Gambling disorder typically comes as the consequence of other conditions. They may include depression, ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this case, medications may be introduced to cure underlying conditions. Antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac and mood stabilisers like lithium may help in treating gambling addiction. These medications can decrease the urge to gamble or the thrill felt while engaged in these activities.
Gambling addicts can join support groups like Gamblers Anonymous and take part in meetings where they can help each other by sharing their experiences. Some patients may need to physically be removed from their addictive lives, though. In this case, the best option for them is a residential treatment centre where they can stay from 30 to 90 days. They will receive 24-hour care and participate in therapies that can help them confront their addiction.
Besides the treatment methods mentioned above, gambling addicts should also consider working with a debt counsellor who can help them resolve their financial issues. Besides, if gambling disorder has taken a toll on your relationships, marriage counselling and family therapy can be beneficial.
How to treat gambling addiction – Step-by-step Guide
Here is the list of steps to treat gambling addiction:
- Acknowledge you have a problem and need help: The first and the most important step to getting your life back is to admit you are addicted to gambling and that it affects your daily activities and relationships.
- Seek professional help: The next step is to talk to a physician or therapist who can help you confront gambling addiction. You must speak openly about your problem with a professional who can help you start the treatment.
- Start treatment: You need the will and determination to combat your gambling problem, but the sooner you start, the better.
- Find the treatment that works best for you: Each person requires a different approach, so make sure to open up about your struggle with compulsive gambling to get the right treatment.
- Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: CBT is considered to be one of the most effective approaches as it identifies compulsive thoughts and beliefs behind behavioural patterns and focuses on changing them.
- Find new hobbies: Gambling is addictive because it triggers the reward system of the brain linked to pleasure. To confront your gambling problem successfully, try to find healthier activities that will provide you with an enjoyable experience, like hiking, cycling, painting, gardening and more.
Does therapy help when solving gambling addiction?
Yes, therapy can treat gambling addiction. According to psychiatrists, it is a chronic disorder that requires a holistic approach. It means the patient should be treated with medications and complementary methods, including group and other therapies.
Psychiatrist Prof. Pinhas Dannon of Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, recommends an extended regimen for optimal results. Dannon, who published the book Are We All Addicts? says that to avoid relapse, gambling addicts need careful monitoring and comprehensive treatments over the longer term.
He claims that patients who suffer from gambling disorder should be treated with Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, for at least two years even though some earlier studies showed that with six-month treatment most gamblers would not go start gambling again. According to him, a drug regimen that lasts two years would keep 80% of gamblers away from gambling for four years.
When it comes to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, researchers have reported that this approach was highly effective in treating compulsive gambling. Patients who completed therapy would not go back to gambling activities for up to 24 months. Both in-person and group CBT is effective in gambling addiction treatment.
Types of gambling addiction
Several types of gamblers who can develop addiction can be differentiated. They are listed below:
- Compulsive Gamblers: These gamblers cannot get over the urge to gamble. They spend a lot of time gambling and cannot stop doing it.
- Escape or Relief Gamblers: These gamblers engage in gambling activities to fulfil an emotional need or manage mental problems, like depression or anxiety.
- Serious Social Gamblers: They consider gambling their primary source of thrill and entertainment.
- Personality or Antisocial Gamblers: Engage in illegal activities trying to win big, including cheating, stealing and deceiving other players.
- Casual Social Gamblers: Don’t have a strong desire to win and perceive gambling as a way to spend more time with friends or meet new people.
- Conservative Gamblers: Curious about gambling as a form of entertainment, interested in a gambling experience more than in socialising or winning big.
- Professional Gamblers: The least common type of gambler who earns a living by gambling.
When comparing different types of gamblers, we can conclude that compulsive, personality and escape gamblers are the most susceptible to developing a gambling addiction.
Compulsive gamblers will constantly chase the next win trying to cover losses and continue to gamble although these activities have already affected their work life, finances and relationships. They need professional help to confront their gambling problem.
Personality gamblers, also known as antisocial gamblers, also need professional help not only to cure a gambling disorder but also to address behaviour patterns that make them involved in criminal activities.
Escape of relief gamblers are emotionally fragile which typically leads to poor judgement. They can gamble and lose a lot of money, which can worsen their emotional state. All these problems can be risk factors for gambling addiction.
Serious social gamblers would spend long hours gambling. Although they can be in control of their gambling habits, they may develop a gambling disorder if they experience a traumatic event or a big win. The biggest difference between serious social gamblers and casual gamblers is that the former relies on gambling as a coping mechanism for stress, which can trigger gambling addiction.
Conservative and professional gamblers are the least likely to develop a gambling disorder. Both groups of players have self-control and budget and time limits they stick to.
Is Gambling Really That Prevalent?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 350 million gamblers display a problematic pattern each year. The same source claims that the prevalence of problem gambling varied from 0.1% to 5.8% in the past 12 months. The epidemiology and impact of gambling disorder and other gambling-related harm discussion paper for the 2017 WHO Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviours reports that in Europe, prevalence rates are generally, in North America and Australasia these rates are intermediate while their values are high in Asia.
In the USA, it is estimated that around 1% of the adult population has a severe gambling problem. The fact sheet on gambling disorder published by the International Centre for Responsible Gambling reports that between 6% and 9% of young people and young adults experience gambling-related problems, which is a rate higher than among adults.
The rates for Asia vary from country to country. A study from 2015 reports that the highest rates of problem gambling were found in Asian countries, excluding South Korea. It quotes the study carried out for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that shows that between 1991 and 2011 Hong Kong had a problem gambling prevalence of 5.6%, Macau rate was 6% while the rate for Singapore was 3.8%.
Australia is known as the country with the highest number of gamblers with almost 40% of the population gambling daily. The report carried out by Central Queensland University for Gambling Research Australia shows that the prevalence of gambling has dropped in 2019 and 2020 compared with 2010 and 11. At the same time, problem gambling rates increased. According to the report, it is estimated that the percentage of problem gamblers increased for land-based and online gambling from 0.6% to 1.23%. The prevalence of gambling disorder rose from 2.7% to 3.9% among online gamblers, while among land-based players, the rate increased from 0.9% to 1.4%.
Like in Asia, pathological gambling prevalence rates vary from country to country. A BBC report from 2018 shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has the highest number of young people who gamble frequently. This report states that in 2016 it was estimated that 78% of university students had a gambling problem.
Should a gambling addict person be open about it with his/her family?
Yes, a gambling addict should explain their problem to the family. Although this conversation will not be pleasant, admitting that you have a gambling problem and need help is the first step towards healing.
If you are not sure how to start the conversation on this subject, here is what you should do:
- Prepare yourself for a serious talk;
- Be frank about your problem;
- Explain the struggles you are dealing with;
- Suggest a solution to your gambling problem.
Are gambling movies responsible for gambling addiction?
No, gambling movies cannot trigger gambling addiction. Yet, they can make you curious about this form of entertainment, especially those where gambling is romanticised. A group of researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada, carried out the study Images of gambling in film.
In their study, they quoted excerpts from Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film, a 1999 book. In the book, the author states that although some movies accurately depict pathological gambling at least partially. Still, he finds that many movies about a gambling disorder have happy endings, which is irresponsible.
Are certain casino games more addictive?
Yes, certain casino games are more addictive than others. When it comes to land-based casinos, electronic gambling machines are considered the most addictive gambling games. According to the Help Guide website, gamblers who play at electronic machines develop gambling addiction almost three times faster than those who play table games and bet on racetracks. The source claims that it takes 1.08 years for a gambler to become addicted to electronic machines. At the same time, the gambler who prefers table games can develop a gambling disorder within 3.58 years.
Slot and video poker machines are considered “crack cocaine”, which is the term used by the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery because of the immediate gratification they provide players with. An article published in The Guardian reports that a far higher number of roulette games are available in poor areas with a high unemployment rate. Gamblers may also become addicted to roulette because of promises made by sellers of roulette strategies who convince them that they can beat the game. No mathematical system, wheel bias and other techniques can help you do it – roulette is all about luck.
Poker and slot machines are considered the most addictive games in online gambling. Poker is a skill-based game where the gambler can use an optimal strategy to beat the house. Because of that, the gambler can have false expectations and keep playing to cover their losses and eventually win some money. Slot machines offer massive payouts and potentially lucrative bonus features and require no experience. However, prizes available in slot machines are much like a carrot on a stick, with players coming back for another opportunity to win big.