Overcoming Gambling Addiction
Compulsive gambling is an uncontrollable need to gamble that worsens over time. Compulsive gamblers are unable to stop or curb their behavior on their own, even when it inevitably begins to cause damage to their finances, family, career and other aspects of their lives. In extreme cases, consequences of compulsive gambling such as bankruptcy or divorce can leave the addict financially, emotionally and mentally unstable and can lead to suicidal thoughts.
According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 5 percent of Americans suffer from some sort of compulsive gambling problem. And with the ever-increasing popularity of online gambling, experts expect that number to continue to rise.
An Internet gambling addiction may be even easier to sustain than other forms of gambling addiction for several reasons. First, Internet gambling offers a lack of immediate accountability: unlike with coins or chips, there is no physical transaction of currency. Like online shopping, online gambling makes it easy to forget about how much you’ve spent.Second, the amount of time spent gambling on the Internet is easy to hide, even from the gambler themselves, because so much of the average person’s time is already spent on a computer or mobile phone.
Third, Internet gambling is highly accessible: unlike a casino or horse track, Internet gambling sites can be with you any time, anywhere.
Compulsive Gambling Symptoms
The first step to successfully managing a gambling addiction is to recognize the symptoms. Common warning signs of addictive gambling behavior include:
- Preoccupation with gambling — obsession with strategies, when the next opportunity will be to play, getting the money to play, etc.
- Use of gambling as a means of dealing with depression or otherwise escaping real life
- Inability to focus on work; decrease in job performance
- Neglect of family; personal relationships noticeably suffering
- Withdrawal from non-gambling-related social activities
- Chasing losses: making increasingly frequent and bigger bets in an attempt to recover past gambling losses
- Needing to make increasingly frequent and bigger bets to get the same thrill
- Lying about or hiding how much time and money is spent on gambling
- Failing to pay bills or keep other financial commitments
- Borrowing or even stealing money for gambling
Unfortunately, recognizing these symptoms in another person is often not enough to begin the treatment process, since gambling addicts are often in denial about their condition. The compulsive gambler must themselves be willing to admit there is a problem; treatment is much less likely to be successful if they are coerced or forced into it.
Treating a Gambling Addiction
Compulsive gambling is a challenging but also highly treatable condition once the addict acknowledges they are not in control of their gambling behavior and need help to manage it. If you are beginning a treatment plan for a gambling addiction, it will likely include most or all of the following elements:
- Talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy that is often successfully used to treat people with addictions. Your therapist will help you to replace irrational or otherwise destructive patterns of thinking with accurate, positive beliefs. In some cases, therapy will include sessions for or with your family members, as well.The therapist will also assess whether you are suffering from any other mental condition that might be contributing to your compulsive gambling, such as depression or ADHD.
- Medication. If your therapist does diagnose you with a concurrent condition, they will likely prescribe you medications such as mood stabilizers or antidepressants to address the symptoms of that condition, as part of the overall treatment plan to curtail your compulsive gambling.
- Support Groups. Many people find strength in the positive network of a professionally or peer-led support group for people with gambling problems.