Gambling Addiction

What is Gambling Addiction

What is pathologic gambling?

People who are pathologic gamblers can’t control their impulses to gamble. They end up losing a lot of money and get into financial trouble. Gambling usually causes problems with their work, school or relationships.

However, in spite of these problems, a pathologic gambler will continue to gamble. Men or women of any age can be pathologic gamblers. Depression, drinking and taking drugs often go along with pathologic gambling. Pathologic gamblers may also think about committing suicide.

What causes pathologic gambling?

Many experts think that pathologic gambling is an addiction because of the “rush” you feel when you win and lose money. A person’s experiences and personality type also play a large part.

Can pathologic gambling be treated?

Yes. However, pathologic gambling can be hard to treat because you may not want to tell others about your problem. First, you have to admit you have a gambling problem by telling your family and friends. Second, you can join Gamblers Anonymous, a self-help group for problem gamblers. Your family and friends can join Gam-Anon. This is a group that helps family members and friends deal with a loved one who is a pathologic gambler. Your family doctor can work with you and your family during your treatment. It’s important to complete the treatment program. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health expert for more help. This help may involve talking about your gambling problem. It may also include advice about how to understand your gambling urges and how to handle them. Treatment for pathologic gambling may also include treatment for depression or substance abuse, if needed.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How do I know if I have a problem with gambling?
  • What can I do about my gambling problem?
  • Is gambling addictive?
  • Can pathologic gambling be treated?
  • How do I know if my teen has a problem with gambling?
  • Can you recommend some support groups who help people who have a gambling problem?

Gambling Disorder

Gambling is betting money or other valuables on the outcome of a game or event. Gambling disorder is a mental illness. People with this disorder cannot control their gambling. For them, gambling is an addiction without the drug.

They may get a feeling of extreme pleasure (euphoria) from gambling. Gambling may also be a way to escape or avoid certain emotional experiences. They want to gamble again and again.

Over time, they have more trouble resisting the urge to gamble. They keep gambling even when they lose big. They may turn to illegal activities to get money for gambling.

Gambling disorder interferes with normal life activities. It often causes problems with relationships, finances, and performance at work or school. People with gambling disorder are at high risk for suicide and physical health problems.

What are the causes?

The cause of this condition is not known.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:

  • Age. The disorder is most common in younger or middle-aged adults.
  • Gender. The disorder is more common in men, but the risk increases in women as they grow older.
  • Being a highly impulsive person.
  • Having family members with the disorder.
  • Taking certain medicines for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Having a substance use disorder, depression, or other mental disorder. Examples include bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Needing to risk more money to feel excited.
  • Feeling restless or irritable when trying to limit or stop gambling.
  • Making many unsuccessful efforts to limit or stop gambling.
  • Thinking about gambling often.
  • Gambling to deal with feelings such as sadness, anxiety, guilt, or anger.
  • Placing larger bets to make back money that you lost in the past.
  • Hiding or lying about the extent of your gambling.
  • Losing an important relationship, job, or career or educational opportunity because of gambling.
  • Relying on others to pay for gambling debts.

People with gambling disorder have 4 or more of these symptoms within 1 year. The symptoms of gambling disorder may be continuous, or they may occur in cycles separated by several months. In people with bipolar disorder, the symptoms are not limited to manic episodes.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed through an assessment by your health care provider or a mental health provider. He or she will ask questions about your gambling and how it affects your life. People with bipolar disorder may gamble during a manic episode but not have gambling disorder.

The severity of gambling disorder depends on how many symptoms you have:

  • Mild: 4 or 5 symptoms.
  • Moderate: 6 or 7 symptoms.
  • Severe: 8 or 9 symptoms.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition usually includes a combination of:

  • Counseling or talk therapy. Certain forms of talk therapy can be helpful. Behavioral therapy teaches you how to resist gambling urges. It helps you learn to replace gambling with healthy behavior. Cognitive therapy helps you identify and change negative thoughts and beliefs that may lead to gambling.
  • Mindfulness-based treatments. This type of therapy helps you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and impulses so you can better control them.
  • Support groups. Groups such as Gamblers Anonymous provide emotional support and guidance for quitting gambling.
  • Medicine. Certain medicines used to treat substance use disorders may reduce gambling urges or behavior. Antidepressant medicines and mood stabilizers may help people with gambling disorder who also have a psychiatric disorder.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Attend Gamblers Anonymous to help achieve and sustain behavior changes. Find a sponsor and accept his or her help.
  • Find hobbies or activities that you enjoy that do not include gambling.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety, such as:
    • Exercise.
    • Meditation.
    • Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other methods that help you to calm yourself.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You are not able to take your medicines as directed.
  • Your symptoms get worse.

Get help right away if:

  • You have serious thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else.

If you ever feel like you may hurt yourself or others, or have thoughts about taking your own life, get help right away. You can go to your nearest emergency department.

Summary

  • Gambling disorder is a mental illness. It often causes problems with relationships, finances, and performance at work or school.
  • People with gambling disorder may get a feeling of extreme pleasure (euphoria) from gambling. Gambling may also be a way to escape or avoid certain emotional experiences.
  • Gambling disorder symptoms have many similarities to substance-related addictions.
  • Counseling and mindfulness-based therapy can help you identify and change negative thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that may lead to gambling. Support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous provide emotional support and guidance for quitting gambling.

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