Struggling with Compulsions to Gamble

Posted by | Alcohol and Drug Use, Wellness | May 05, 2015

There are many forms of addiction out there. Although it’s most common to hear about addictions to alcohol and drugs, certainly behaviors that elicit an experience of pleasure out of us can also become addictive, and gambling is one of them.

Imagine the excitement when you pull a card that gives you a full house. Or even better, imagine the thrill when you’re handed a pile of chips to cash in at the end of the night. The thrill can lure you back to gambling again and again, and that pull can get so strong you’re willing to give up what your savings for the thrill of gambling. You’re willing to lose money you need for food, rent, utilities, and your car payment. There are even many stories of entire families, even children, going without their basic necessities because one of their parents has developed an addiction to gambling.

The truth is almost anything can become an addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the fifth edition, published in May of 2013, an addiction is anything an individual has lost power over. Over time, this can be the case with feelings the pleasures of winning in gambling. There are behaviors that bring such a rush of pleasure to the brain, such as gambling, shopping, or sexual activity that an addiction develops. Sadly, this is true for many people around the world.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 15 percent of Americans gamble at least once per week, and approximately two to three percent of Americans meet the criteria for problem gambling. This translates to around 6 million adults. The financial rewards of gambling can lead to a gradual loss of control over gambling behavior. When people lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in.

Gambling is a popular social activity. For many individuals, it can be entertaining, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. When gambling is only a social activity and not an addiction, it tends to have the following characteristics:

–Gambling is fun and there is no worry about money.
–Usually people avoid high-risk games knowing the dangers and consequences of losing large sums of money.
–Although some people might play regularly, they have the ability to limit their playing to once or twice per week and to keep their playing among friends.

However, the financial rewards of gambling can lead to a gradual loss of control over gambling behavior. When the brain is stimulated by a particular activity that brings excitement, it fills with dopamine, which feels pleasurable. Over time, as one continues to engage in that activity, there is a dependency that slowly develops upon those feelings of pleasure. In fact, this can become so strong that an addiction can develop such that it affects one’s functioning at home or work. For instance, if you notice your performance at work declining or a neglect of family or household responsibilities due to excessive participation in one particular activity, perhaps there’s an addiction. A traditional symptom of addiction is the continued use of a drug, or in this case an activity, to the exclusion of other life-activities and responsibilities.

The following are red flags to look for if there is suspicion that you or someone you know might be developing a gambling addiction:

–Selling personal belongings
–Borrows money and does not return the loan
–Stealing and lying to friends and family
–Possessing large amounts of money without good explanation
–Possessing a great deal of debt
–Receiving a number of phone calls from strangers
–Isolation from friends and family
–Growing absences from school or work
–Making frequent calls to 900 gambling numbers.
–Spending large amounts of hours online

Typically, treatment for gambling includes psychotherapy, support groups, and possibly group therapy. Fortunately, medication is not necessary as with drug and alcohol addiction where there may be physical withdrawal symptoms when the addiction comes to an end. Certainly, addiction is treatable with the right treatment measures, and this includes an addiction to gambling.

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