Far from just a run of the mill problem, gambling addiction has been classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association since 1980. While many would shrug off destructive gambling as a pesky habit, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that between 5 and 8 million adults meet criteria for gambling addiction, substantially more than the estimated 1 million at the time of classification.
Gambling addiction functions the same way as addiction to drugs or alcohol, compelling addicts to continue their habits long after the behavior turns destructive, even at the risk of losing their jobs or relationships or running themselves completely out of money. Gambling addiction doesn’t just harm the addicts themselves, either; the NCPG attributes certain cases of bankruptcy, burglary, spouse abuse, child neglect, foreclosure, and even suicide to gambling addiction.
Of course, no addiction is a black and white line. Gambling addiction takes many shapes and forms and can emerge in different ways across gender and socio-economic class. Any addiction operates on a spectrum, but certain signs suggest gambling to a detrimental manner, such as experiencing withdrawal symptoms when prevented from betting or gambling exorbitant amounts of money.
A few steps to overcoming gambling addiction follow:
1) Admit the Problem
The only way to solve a problem is to first admit its presence and to decide to face it. Unfortunately, as with many addicts, gamblers often don’t seek help or guidance until very late in the cycle. Anyone in need of help or information is encouraged to contact 24 hour gambling hotlines manned by clinically trained professionals.
2) Join a Support Group
Individual therapy is recommended, but gamblers can also seek help in community support programs such as Gamblers Anonymous (GA), which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. GA offers many of the same devices as AA, including sponsors and welcoming addicts’ family members. GA groups are available all over the country and selectively internationally.
3) Seek Professional Help
Clinical therapy from a licensed psychologist is recommended to gambling addicts. In these sessions, therapists and addicts work together to chase problems to their source and rectify destructive behavior. Therapy can help addicts identify triggers and cope with daily personal and financial problems rather than relapsing into binge gambling to escape.
4) Consider Medication
Gambling addicts build tolerance to betting the same way drug addicts build tolerance to substance abuse. A common sign of gambling addiction is seeking larger and larger bets to achieve the same high from anticipating a pay off. Medication can be used to tame the cravings for this high by affecting serotonin levels, or reducing the positive effects felt by winning to encourage addicts to quit.
5) Implement Regulations
Gamblers who have not yet identified as addicts but are apprehensive of starting down a slippery slope might enact restrictions on their lives to prevent them from getting carried away such as implementing a rigid budget that only allows for selective gambling. More destructive gamblers might appoint a financial advisor to prevent them from allocating money for gambling.