Gambling isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, compulsive gambling or a 'gambling addiction' can arise out of gambling behaviour. Evidence suggests that this happens in up to 2% of people who gamble.
Also known as 'problem gambling', this is when someone has the urge to gamble repeatedly, despite their desire to stop and the harmful negative consequences.
Rather than a focus on the behaviour itself, a gambling addiction is characterised by harmful consequences to the self or others.
If you are suffering from a gambling addiction, this can lead to similar consequences of that of a substance addiction - such as social and family costs. This might be a financial crisis, relationship problems or poor health. You may experience feelings of fear and shame that your family and friends might find out. This might also lead to depression and anxiety. Even if you feel like you can't stop, you can with the right help.
What are the signs of compulsive gambling?
Compulsive gamblers will continue to gamble despite the consequences. They cannot control the impulse to gamble as it's all they think about and want to do. This urge surrounds the need to experience the anticipation and thrill of making large bets. However, this can lead to many harmful consequences, one of the most obvious being financial problems.
They might find themselves doing things they don't normally do, like stealing money to fund their habit.
It is important to note that unlike other addictions, there may not be any visible physical effects. This means that if you're worried about someone else who might have a gambling addiction, it will be hard to spot unless they tell you themselves.
However, there are a number of common signs:
- Frequent mood swings
- Missing work or school
- Withdrawing from social activity
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Stealing, borrowing money
- Lying and hiding the addiction from others
Ultimately, if it's a compulsive habit that you, or someone you know, is struggling to give up, you might want to talk about it to someone. The sooner treatment begins, the more likely it is that any harmful consequences can be prevented.
How do people become addicted to gambling if it isn't a drug?
The idea that people can only become addicted to physical substances is a huge and harmful misconception. Although gambling is an activity and not a substance, people experience the same chemical reaction or high that occur when certain drugs are taken. This chemical reaction involves the release of a chemical - a neurotransmitter - called dopamine. This chemical makes you feel happy, alert and powerful - fueling an addiction in the case of repetitive gambling behaviour. Problem gamblers crave the high it provides, just as someone addicted to certain drugs would.
What if the person doesn't gamble everyday?
The idea that gambling isn't compulsive unless the individual gambles every day is another common misconception. The frequency of their habit is not the thing that characterises a gambling addiction - it is the severity of the problem. Even if they only gamble once a month they could still have a gambling addiction.
What does treatment involve?
Treatment for a gambling addiction varies from person to person. This is because every gambling problem is unique to the person, and gambling addiction often co-occurs with alcohol or substance abuse problems. Additional treatment may be required if this is the case.
Generally however, treatment for gambling addiction tends to centre around talking therapies or counselling. These involve addressing the triggers of the addiction. That is, the thing that compels the person to gamble despite the harmful consequences.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment. This guides the individual through a process of change, encouraging them to rewire their thoughts and beliefs in order to become free from the addiction. Reframing thoughts and behaviours in this way has been found to be a highly successful approach to treating gambling addictions.