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What is Gambling Addiction?

What is Gambling Addiction?

A gambling addiction, also called gambling disorder, is the compulsive need to gamble despite negative consequences. Characterized by a lack of impulse control, the disorder drives a person to continue the gambling behavior even when it damages relationships, finances, and work or school performance.

Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used by clinicians to diagnose mental disorders. DSM-5 is the most current edition of the manual and defines gambling disorder (GD) as recurring gambling behavior leading to “clinically significant impairment or distress” that is not related to a manic episode.

A diagnosis of GD is based on the presence of a least four of the following symptoms occurring within the past 12 months:

  • Gambles with increasingly higher amounts of money to get the desired emotional effect
  • Moody, restless, irritable when trying to slow down or stop gambling
  • Has unsuccessfully tried several times to control or stop gambling
  • Obsessively thinks about gambling, the next wager and ways to obtain money for gambling
  • Gambles to avoid negative emotions like anxiety, depression, and guilt
  • Gambles with the goal of winning back money lost in a previous gambling session
  • Lies to hide the frequency of and money spent on gambling
  • Has experienced damage to a relationship, job or school performance or financial stability due to gambling behavior
  • Has turned to others for help with financial problems caused by gambling

A study published in Translational Psychiatry found that gambling activates areas of the brain regulating decision-making, pleasure and reward and impulse control. These are the same areas affected by drug and alcohol use.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

A 2012 survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling found the number of people with a gambling problem had increased since earlier surveys. The survey concluded about 5.77 million people in the surveyed year had a gambling disorder that needed treatment.

If you believe you or a loved one has a gambling addiction, it is important to seek professional help. Not only can gambling destroy relationships, finances and security, but those with a gambling disorder also have a higher risk of suicide.

Treatment for a gambling disorder is similar to treatment for other addictive behaviors. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following treatment approaches:

  • Therapy: Individual and group therapy, which may include behavioral exposure therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Support Groups: A group like Gamblers Anonymous provides a mutual support system for those seeking information or support for a gambling addiction. Another resource, the National Problem Gambling Helpline, encourages those in need to call, text, or chat online for help with a gambling problem.
  • Medications: Because depression or anxiety disorders often accompany compulsive gambling, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers may help to reduce gambling behavior.

It is not uncommon for an individual with a gambling disorder to also have a co-occurring disorder, which may include anxiety disorder, depression, an eating disorder, ADHD, or substance use disorder. For successful long-term recovery, it is important that any co-occurring disorders are treated simultaneously with the gambling addiction.

Turning Point of Tampa has been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.

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