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Gambling Addiction Causes, Treatment & Symptoms

Gambling is one of the most insidious human vices that presents the illusion of easy money. It can go from an entertaining hobby to an unhealthy obsession with major consequences. Whether it is roulette, poker, scratch cards or sports betting – online, in a casino, or at the track – gambling can instantly become a serious problem. Gambling can weaken your relationships, handicap your work, and eventually result in a financial catastrophe. In the end, you’ll find yourself stealing money to pay your debts or to continue gambling. Overall, gambling is a successful industry where the house always wins.


What Is Gambling Addiction?

Moderate gambling is a socially tolerable behavior. However, gambling addiction – or pathological gambling or compulsive gambling – is a completely different story. It is an impulse-control disorder where you gamble whether you’re happy or depressed, rick or broke, up or down.

It is often associated with other mood or behavior problems, including substance abuse disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. If left untreated, the addiction can lead to many negative social, financial, and legal consequences. Although there are more men who suffer from this addiction, there is an increase in the number of women gambling since the internet has made gambling more accessible.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, gambling addiction affects more than 2 percent of Americans. It might seem as a fascinating way to earn easy money, but it can become an issue that affects not just the gambler, but also that person’s family and friends overnight.


What causes gambling addiction?

Classified as an impulse control disorder, gambling addiction can be caused by an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The obsessive part applies to the individual thinking obsessively about gambling, while the compulsive part applies to the individual acting out his obsessions in order to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Gambling addiction can also appear due to a genetic predisposition toward addictive behaviors. According to The Mayo Clinic, winning and losing provokes dopamine in the brain and rewards the individual in the same way as sex and food. The gambler can inherit the addiction from one or both parents.

Furthermore, addicts may find gambling as an escape from the outside world. It can be considered as a pathological coping mechanism for running away from present and past issues. Many scientists believe that gambling to escape problems of life can be the strongest forecaster in addiction and relapse. Studies show that gambling addicts can gamble as a coping mechanism for a past trauma that has caused serious psychological damage on a person. Childhood traumas including abuse or neglect can be a significant predictor of adult gambling addiction.


How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling

A number of studies have showed that gambling and addictive drugs rewire neural circuits in similar ways. The reward system links many brain regions involved in memory, movement, pleasure and motivation. Neurons in the reward system release a chemical messenger called dopamine that gives us waves of satisfaction and encouragement. When stimulated by gambling, the reward system releases up to 10 times more dopamine than usual.

Just as cocaine or methamphetamine addicts need strong hits to get high, gamblers can run after even riskier ventures. Moreover, compulsive gamblers also endure symptoms of withdrawal when separated from the thrill they seek. Neuroscientists have discovered that gambling and drugs change many of the brain circuits in similar ways.

Although experts use to regard addiction as dependency on a chemical, now they define it as “repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions”. Timothy Fong, an addiction expert at the University of California, says: ““The past idea was that you need to ingest a drug that changes neurochemistry in the brain to get addicted, but we now know that just about anything we do alters the brain”.


What Are the Symptoms of a Gambling Problem?

The symptoms of a gambling addiction are similar to the symptoms of other addictions. This addiction is hard to conceal as it will soon begin to show in other areas of life. Common symptoms may include:

  • Gambling to feel better
  • Being unable to control the gambling
  • Gambling when you cannot afford to
  • Becoming easily irritated when trying to stop gambling
  • Avoiding work
  • Neglecting bills and expenses
  • Selling possessions
  • Stealing money
  • Lying about your gambling addiction
  • Taking bolder and bolder risks while gambling
  • Weakened relationships
  • Loss of a job, house or other possessions

Gambling addiction can also cause numerous emotional symptoms, including, but not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

These emotional symptoms like depression and anxiety can lead to further physical symptoms such as:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Pale skin
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains
  • Ulcers
  • Bowel problems


How Can You Treat a Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is manageable with the right treatment. Individual simply need to learn how to develop a healthy and balanced relationship with money. It’s vital for the gambler to quit gambling completely, in order to avoid relapse. Overall, gambling addiction can be treated with similar methods as other addictions. Therapist have found that compulsive gamblers respond netter to medication and therapy used for addictions, rather than strategies like trichotillomania.

Inpatient Rehab Programs

Many gambling addicts find that they need a structured inpatient program at a rehab center in order to overcome their addiction. These treatment programs are confidential, treatment options are flexible, and many centers even offer individual rooms. Rehab centers usually offer 1-month, 2-month, and 3-month options. The intake process consists of evaluation, medical testing, and paperwork. All admitted patients receive a schedule that can include education, exercise, presentations, counseling, and behavior modification therapy.

Outpatient Rehab Programs

Individual with gambling addictions more commonly use outpatient treatment programs. The patient will continue to live at their home and participate in school or work. These programs can range from groups like Gamblers Anonymous to individual therapy. The larger part of therapy done in inpatient programs can also be done within an outpatient setting. The difference is mainly the length of time spent in therapy. Many patients move from inpatient care to outpatient treatment that provides a network of support services that guide the individual through the phases of rehab and aftercare.

Furthermore, the 12-step programs can be helpful if the individual can’t afford a more intensive rehab option. Just as Gamblers Anonymous, it can help the gambler build a support network of other recovered addicts by attending meetings one or more times per week.


Patients can also benefit from one-on-one therapy. In this way, they will learn how to change self-destructive patterns, open up about their issues, and address these problems. Research shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medications and therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy can help gamblers how to resist unwanted thoughts and habits.


Medication can sometimes be a vital part of recovery. Prescribed medication and monitored by a doctor can help in overall recovery. In the case of gambling addiction, medications used in substance abuse addiction plans like naltrexone, were found to indirectly inhabit brain cells from producing dopamine, thereby reducing cravings.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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