Ways to Treat a Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction treatment can be challenging, and the research on this particular area of addiction is still limited when compared to other forms of addiction, such as drug or alcohol use.
According to The Gambling Commission, there are so many people struggling with compulsive gambling across Great Britain who aren’t getting the treatment they need.
The numbers indicate that those accessing treatment for gambling disorder only accounts for two to three percent of those who are actually estimated to struggle with problem gambling.
This may be because it’s difficult for those with gambling addiction to admit they have a problem, as gambling is generally socially acceptable. Unlike drug and alcohol addiction, there are less overtly obvious physical symptoms associated with problem gambling. This can also contribute to why it may be harder to acknowledge as a problem.
Even though research is limited, there are treatment methods that have been proven to be effective in treating problem gambling.
How to know if you’re struggling with pathological gambling
In today's world, gambling has become widely accepted. From 24/7 casinos to online sports betting apps, the accessibility to gambling has become so embedded in the fabric of society.
For many, gambling is a harmless activity. Some may gamble on special occasions, while others may not be drawn to gambling at all.
For others, however, gambling can become compulsive and can cause a domino effect of deeply debilitating consequences.
So where is the line drawn between gambling for fun and pathological gambling? How do you know if you struggle with problem gambling?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, gambling disorder occurs when an individual engages in recurrent, maladaptive gambling that results in clinically significant distress.
Some of the signs of gambling disorder are:
- A preoccupation with gambling
- Failure to cut back on gambling despite the consequences
- Relying on other people to help you financially due to your own financial losses
- Feeling shame about your gambling
- Lying about the extent to which you’re gambling
- Minimising your gambling
- Using gambling as a way to avoid problems
- Sacrificing other areas of your life, such as your relationships or career, for gambling
These criteria can indicate that you may be struggling with problem gambling and would benefit from exploring gambling addiction treatment. Because gambling doesn’t necessarily bear quite the same social stigma as other mental health disorders, it may be difficult to identify or acknowledge that it’s something you’re struggling with.
The truth is, gambling disorder is a massively debilitating condition, and holds many similarities with substance use disorders.
Does problem gambling affect the brain?
Compulsive gambling is considered to be a behavioural addiction. Because of the similarities between gambling disorders and substance use disorders, compulsive gambling was reclassified into the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders group in the DSM-5.
Some of the parallels between gambling disorder and substance use disorder include experiencing cravings, withdrawal, ongoing engagement in the behaviour despite significant consequences, and interference in one’s life. Both substance use disorders and pathological gambling also evoke changes in behaviour and within the brain.
For those who struggle with compulsive gambling, the brain’s reward system responds in a similar way as it does for those struggling with substance abuse.
When you gamble, your brain releases dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for providing feelings of pleasure. Interestingly, research has shown that dopamine isn't only released when you win while gambling, but also if you lose. Those who struggle with compulsive gambling essentially chase the dopamine high they get from gambling.
Further, research has also demonstrated that there are many similar genetic predispositions between those who struggle with substance use and those who struggle with gambling, including impulsivity and reward-seeking behaviours.
Recognising when you need help for gambling addiction
If you’re wondering whether you need help for gambling addiction, it can be helpful to observe how gambling has impacted your life.
One of the criteria for gambling addiction is ongoing use despite the negative consequences. Below are some consequences of chronic gambling that may indicate you need help for gambling addiction:
Physical consequences of compulsive gambling:
- Sleep deprivation
- Chronic stress
- Heart disease
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Abnormal stress responses
- Alcohol or nicotine dependence
- Binge eating or changes in eating patterns
- Baseline medical issues becoming worse
Mental and emotional consequences of compulsive gambling:
- Bipolar disorder
- Suicidal ideation or attempts
- Cognitive distortions about gambling, such as fantasies of success
Social consequences of compulsive gambling:
- Increased crime
- Financial loss
- Increased amounts of debt
- Legal trouble
- Missed time at work or school
- Diminished relationships
- Family members experiencing physical and psychological struggles
Gambling addiction treatment options
Not much is known about the treatment options for gambling addiction as compared to drug and alcohol addiction. Traditional talk therapy involving cognitive behavioural therapy have been shown to be most effective in reducing gambling problems and treating the behaviour of compulsive gambling.
Additionally, limited clinical trials have been conducted on the effectiveness of medication-based treatments for gambling disorder. However, there are some pharmacological treatments that have been used in the treatment of gambling disorder.
Below are some treatment options to explore if you or someone you love is struggling with gambling addiction:
Counselling and therapy
As previously mentioned, psychotherapy currently appears to be one of the most effective methods of gambling addiction treatment. Motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT are particularly effective. These talk based therapies have shown the most significant results when treating gambling disorders in both the short and long term.
Motivational interviewing is a tool used in therapy that allows you to identify your own reasons for change. The first step towards recovery is acknowledging that there’s a problem, and motivational interviewing is incredibly beneficial in this area. Not only does motivational interviewing help empower you to make changes in your life, but it also helps you observe the reality of your current situation. It further helps you to identify the discrepancy between now and where you want to be. Studies have shown that motivational interviewing has helped contribute to the reduction in the frequency of gambling behaviour and the severity of gambling disorder. It has also been shown to contribute to increased quality of life.
In addition to motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be particularly effective in treating gambling disorder. CBT can help you become aware of your maladaptive thought patterns, cognitive distortions, and irrational beliefs, which are often associated with gambling disorder.
Inpatient treatment: Rehab for gambling
Inpatient treatment, or residential treatment, is a great gambling addiction treatment option to help you focus solely on recovery without any outside distraction or temptation. Residential treatment is designed to provide you with around-the-clock care and support if you need it. With inpatient treatment, your day is filled with mental health programmes, therapeutic activities, treatment for any co-occurring disorders, and connection with others who know what you’re going through. Inpatient treatment programmes can last for 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days, depending on the individual programme.
Support groups are a great way to get help, especially if you're feeling isolated in your struggles. They offer a place for you to learn how to understand what's going on with you internally. Through support groups, you can learn coping skills from others who have been exactly where you are. You can gain the support you need while working through your addiction. Support groups are a great way to know you’re not alone in the struggles you're facing, and that things can get better.
One of the most widely known support groups used for gambling addiction treatment is Gamblers Anonymous, also referred to as GamAnon. Gamblers Anonymous follows the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous, and aims to help people admit their problem and work through the steps of recovery to get back to the core of who they are and live a full, joyful life. Gamblers Anonymous meetings are offered in person and online.
Recoverlution are partnered with Anonymind, who provide completely free treatment to anyone struggling with a gambling addiction, as well as any family members that may may be affected. You can connect with a qualified therapist for free and start a treatment plan immediately.
GamCare is a great resource to turn to for any support for problem gambling. According to their website, “GamCare is the leading provider of information, advice, and support for anyone affected by gambling harms. We operate the National Gambling Helpline, provide treatment for anyone who is harmed by gambling, create awareness about safer gambling and treatment, and encourage an effective approach to safer gambling within the gambling industry.”
GamCare offers a wealth of support for anyone struggling with problem gambling. They offer a helpline that runs 24 hours, 7 days a week, where you can speak to a trained advisor and get the real-time support you need.
A final word on gambling addiction treatment
It can be tough to identify if you’re struggling with problem gambling, because gambling itself has become such a normalised part of society. However, it’s important to keep in mind that how gambling has affected you, your loved ones, your joy, and your dreams is a crucial thing to really assess and observe.
If you’re struggling with gambling, Recoverlution are here to offer support, guidance, and connection, as you continue to uncover and step into your own recovery journey.
- An overview of gambling disorder: from treatment approaches to risk factors https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5893944/
- The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s advice on the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms 2019–2022 https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/manual/the-responsible-gambling-strategy-boards-advice-on-the-national-strategy-to/recent-developments-in-treatment
- Gamcare https://www.gamcare.org.uk
- Gambling addiction and the brain https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/addiction/2015/gambling-addiction-and-the-brain
- The Biopsychosocial Consequences of Pathological Gambling https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004711/
- Gambling Addiction Treatment: Know Your Options https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/gambling-addiction-treatment-options