When growing up in Canada, we are mostly talked to about drugs and alcohol, unprotected sex and other vices but not gambling addiction despite it being one of the most destructive when it comes to financial and mental well-being.
People can become addicted to behaviors, such as gambling – known as process addictions. If you or a loved one are struggling with a gambling addiction, you can find help for the problem from a rehabilitation facility.
In this article we’re going to discuss in detail the nature of this sort of addiction, and also provide some informationabout addiction and treatment. Once you’ve finished the article, you’ll be better able to know where and how you can find help for the problem.
What is Gambling Addiction?
Someone who struggles with an addiction to a behavior, such as a problem gambler, is experiencing what is known as a process addiction. Process addictions arise when an individual is so infatuated with a behaviour that they are unable to stop themselves from participating in the behaviour, despite the emergence of problems.
Addictive gambling behavior is quite common. Gambling is legal, and there are no regulations placed upon the amount that a person can gamble. Many people begin gambling in hopes of getting lucky enough to support themselves or their family with a bit of extra cash, only to find that they become addicted to the process.
Causes and Risk Factors for Gambling Addiction
Not everyone is prone to become a problem gambler. Some factors can make someone more or less likely to develop a problem with gambling.
The most important thing to recognize is that there is not one specific cause that can lead someone down the path to an addiction. Much like many factors can influence the development of a disease like cancer, many factors can contribute to the development of an addiction.
As you can see, there are a large number of factors that could lead someone to develop a gambling habit.
Process addictions like these are generally believed to be the result of a variety of emotional and biological issues, thought processes, habits, and environmental factors. These are some of the most common risk factors that can lead someone to become a problem gambler.
- People struggling with addictions to drugs like alcohol, cocaine, or benzodiazepines may be more likely to become problem gamblers. These drugs are known to reduce a person’s inhibitions, and may make them more likely to gamble their money away.
- Individuals with financial problems are generally more likely to develop gambling problems. The possibility of winning large sums of money is appealing to many, and can lead people down the path to addictive gambling.
- People who seek novelty or minor adrenaline rushes are more likely to gamble.
- People living in areas where gambling facilities are readily available, such as in Las Vegas, are more likely to develop a habit.
- People who have recently experienced an emotionally traumatizing situation, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one, may be more likely to turn to gambling.
- People struggling with schizophrenia, mood disorders, or who display antisocial personality problems are more likely to develop a gambling addiction.
- People who are using medication to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease have been proven to be more likely to develop impulsive addictions. This is partly due to the way that these drugs interact with the brain’s dopamine system, which we will explain in detail below.
- One example in which gambling addiction may be the result of a particular condition is in patients struggling with bipolar disorder. Some patients with bipolar may find that they are more prone to impulsive spending, gambling, and uninhibited behaviours when they are going through their manic phases.
Symptoms and Signs of Gambling Addiction
If you’re unsure about whether or not you or a loved one are actually a problem gambler, it can be useful to understand some of the most common signs and symptoms of the problem. Some of the most common signs of gambling addiction include:
- Spending more money on gambling than one intends to, having large sums of unaccountable spending, taking out loans or borrowing money from friends or family to gamble
- Feeling the need to increase the size of bets or secure more money to maintain the same level of enjoyment from gambling
- Committing illegal acts, such as theft, to get money to gamble
- Failing to reduce the amount of gambling, or becoming irritable or uncomfortable when prompted or attempting to seek gambling addiction help
- Using gambling as an outlet to avoid dealing with emotional problems
- Being preoccupied with gambling: spending a lot of time fantasizing about past wins or demonizing past losses; planning when you will be able to gamble in the future, or organizing your finances to ensure that you have the funds to be able to gamble
- Missing out on work, socializing, or family due to gambling
- Being unable to stop gambling until one has run out of money or the gambling venue closes
- Frequently thinking about gambling and missing activities so that one can gamble
- Lying about the amount that one gambles or the time that they spend gambling
As you can see, a gambling problem can be quite serious and can lead to issues in an individual’s social and personal life. If you are experiencing the signs of gambling addiction, you should consider seeking treatment.
Complications of Problem Gambling
The gambling itself is generally not the only problem. Compulsive gambling can lead to a number of complications in the life and health of the person involved. Both the families of the addict and the addict themselves will likely experience difficulties in their lives if the issue is not addressed.
These are some of the most common problems associated with gambling addiction.
- Financial problems. A large number of habitual gamblers experience serious financial problems at some point during their addiction. These problems can range from huge debts to outright poverty or going bankrupt.
- Legal issues. Not all gamblers experience legal issues, but some gamblers may be incensed to commit illegal acts, such as stealing, to finance their habit. This can lead to legal repercussions which can adversely affect the gambler and their family.
- Physical health problems. Compulsive gambling can lead to high levels of stress, which can manifest in the body as a variety of physical health problems. Many gambling addicts struggle with stress-related illnesses like ulcers, headaches, digestive issues, or sleeping problems.
- Family problems. Many gambling addiction stories are told not by the gamblers themselves, but by their family members. People who live in the same family as someone who is addicted to gambling are more likely to be subjected to violence or verbal abuse; children born to these habitual gamblers are more likely to develop mental health problems like depression or drug problems.
Unfortunately, the nature of these problems can compound as stress, depression, or anxiety, which can make it more difficult for someone to figure out how to stop gambling addiction.
The Biology of Gambling Addiction
All addictions have a biological aspect, and gambling is no different. Process addictions like these cause changes in the brain which can be observed. Understanding how these processes affect the brain can be instrumental in gambling addiction treatment.
The main culprit, in this instance, is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical in our brain) that is involved in feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Naturally, dopamine is released when we accomplish something that is beneficial for our longevity and survival: after having sex, completing an exercise routine, eating a healthy meal, or other similar things.
In the world that we live in, our longevity and survival are often governed by our financial status. We need money to clothe and feed ourselves, to maintain our homes, and to take care of our family. For this reason, the brain is wired to release a tremendous amount of dopamine when we are presented with the opportunity to obtain large sums of money – such as during a gambling session.
The dopamine release that occurs during a gambling session occurs in a part of the brain known as the reward pathway. Unfortunately, consistent activation of this pathway – such as what happens when one is compulsively gambling – leads to a dopamine insensitivity, one of the most devious signs of gambling addiction.
This means that people tend to require more and more stimulation to release the same amount of dopamine and receive the same amount of pleasure that they originally felt when first winning a bet. This occurs in much the same way that a drug addict requires higher and higher doses of their choice drug to experience the same enjoyment.
This is also one of the reasons why not everyone understands how to stop gambling addiction. It’s not a simple matter of ‘stopping gambling.’ As a person gambles more and more, their brain becomes reliant on the risk and reward of gambling to release its pleasure chemicals. This means that when a person is unable to gamble, they will be physically unable to produce the dopamine that they need to feel good.
This is the main reason that people go through a psychological period of ‘gambling withdrawal.’ Rebuilding and restoring the dopamine system can take weeks, months, or years, and during this period it can be extremely tempting for someone to return to the casino. This is one of the most significant reasons to seek gambling addiction help.
How to Stop Gambling Addiction
If you or someone that you love are wondering how to stop gambling addiction, worry not: there are ways that you can overcome the issue. These are some of the most common forms of gambling addiction treatment.
- Therapy. Therapy can help a problem gambler understand the root issues led them towards addiction, and can help them work through these issues so that they no longer feel a compulsive desire to gamble.
- Group meetings. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings help problem drinkers manage their alcohol problems, there are group meetings in which gambling addicts can share stories, knowledge, and experience to help overcome the issue. When asked how to stop gambling addiction, many recovering addicts report that group meetings are among the best supports.
- Rehab. Rehab is the most comprehensive and effective forms of gambling addiction help. Rehab combines many different therapeutic modalities, including therapy and group meetings, to help struggling addicts overcome their problems.
- Outpatient rehab allows people to come and go from the treatment facility at will. This is a less intensive form of care that allows for more freedom.
- Inpatient rehab is an intensive form of treatment in which the patient must stay at the facility 24/7 for the duration of the treatment.
As long as you are determined and persevere, there is no reason that addiction treatment should not be effective for helping you to overcome the difficulties presented by the problem.
How to Stop Gambling Addiction with Self-Help
If you’re wondering how to stop gambling addiction on your own, it’s certainly possible to do if you follow these steps:
Make sure that you limit your access to gambling. This could involve moving to a state or town where there are no gambling facilities, or asking a friend or family member to keep yourself ‘on lockdown’ while you work through the issue.
Identify the psychological or emotional triggers that led you to develop the gambling addiction in the first place. This requires a great deal of introspection and reflection – abilities that not everyone has refined. If you struggle with these processes, a therapist or counselor can help you learn how to better understand yourself.
Find healthy habits and behaviours that trigger the same feelings and responses that gambling did. At first, this may seem difficult, as your dopamine system will be wired to respond specifically to the act of gambling. However, overtime, you will be able to rewire it to respond to other activities.
Naturally, quitting by yourself will be more difficult than it would be to tackle the issue with the support and care of professionals during a gambling addiction treatment plan.
Many gambling addiction stories end in relapse, so it’s important to know how to avoid this. One of the most common causes of relapse is boredom, so you will need to find something that you enjoy.
Pick up a new hobby, like reading, building something, or playing a musical instrument. Surround yourself with encouraging, like-minded people and cut ties with other problem gamblers.
Gambling Addiction Stories
Before attempting to overcome your gambling addiction, it can be helpful to hear some gambling addiction stories from others who have done the same.
Jim’s Descent into Compulsive Gambling
Like many other habitual gamblers, Jim’s first experience gambling led to the mysterious phenomenon known as “beginner’s luck.” After doubling his money on his first-ever bet, he became inclined to believe that the odds of gambling were in his favor.
Just a few weeks later, and Jim had drained most of his savings in the slots. He still managed to pay his bills and put food on the table for himself and his wife, but the rest of his money went into funding.
As it is with many gambling addiction stories, it wasn’t until after his wife threatened him with divorce that he began to take his problem seriously. Thanks to a comprehensive gambling addiction treatment program, Jim was able to recognize his addiction for what it was. Now, he lives happily with his wife – and has managed to build back his savings account.
Thomas Recovers with the Help of His Friends and Family
Thomas had quite a different experience. Hoping to hide the signs of gambling addiction, Thomas began isolating himself from his friends and family. He would go out on the weekends, telling his family that he was going out to the bar with his friends. At the same time, he would tell his friends that he was spending time with his family. In reality, he was at the casino.
He began to lose his friends and his relationship with his family began to sour. It was only when he recognized the damage that he was doing to his personal life and the hurt he was causing his friends and family that he recognized the severity of his problem.
By coming clean and opening up about his addiction, his friends and family were able to offer him the support that he needed. Since building back his relationships, he has recognized that one can’t put a financial price on the importance of loving friendships and family relationships.
As you can see, gambling can be very addictive, the problem should be treated as such. If you or someone that you care about is struggling with the problem, then you should seek gambling addiction help or treatment as soon as possible.