Atlantic City. Las Vegas. Monte Carlo. Reno. A few decades ago, when people thought of gambling, they most likely thought of these cities, but more recently, that perception is changing. Certainly, these iconic cities are still places where people go for entertainment and vacation and gambling. However, more and more, people are placing their bets in their home towns and in their own living rooms. Some form of gambling is legal in 48 states, and for many people, gambling is simply a form of entertainment. Their bets are placed. They either win, or they lose. Then, life moves on. Other others, gambling develops into more. Instead of moving on, gambling takes over their lives. They have become addicted to gambling. Just like other addiction, gambling can change an individual’s brain so that they become dependent. However, also like other addictions, gambling addiction has treatments.
“There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having Fun and being Smart.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
The therapists at Thriveworks Chesterfield who are struggling with their gambling and who are ready for help. We understand the harm that a gambling addiction can cause, but we also understand how to heal and regain control.
Gambling Addiction and The Brain
It has long been known that gambling is an activity that can cause certain people a significant amount of trouble. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) outlines different types of mental health disorders and challenges, and for years, it categorized gambling as an impulse control disorder. However, in the DSM-5, the most recent edition, moved gambling under the label of addiction.
A significant amount of research went into the decision to categorize a gambling disorder as an addiction. Studies have looked at what gambling can do to people’s brains. When an individual gambles compulsively, what is happening in their brain is what happens in the brains of those who are addicted to substances like Marijuana or prescription drugs. When people are addicted, the brain floods with dopamine when they gamble. This dopamine causes a kind of high, a very good feeling. People become addicted to that feeling and to the dopamine that is released. Gambling is the pathway to that release.
Gambling Addiction’s Symptoms
Scientific American is a magazine that has studied gambling addiction. They found that approximately 2 million people in the United States are addicted to gambling. Most of these are men as 1 in 165 men are or will be addicted in their lifetime while 1 in 500 women are or will be addicted in their lifetime.
Many people gamble, but they are not addicted. The DSM-5 gives criteria for diagnosing and recognizing the addiction. Individuals who have a gambling will exhibit a minimum of four of the following for at least one year:
- Having to spend more and more on gambling in order to feel the same good feelings.
- Experiencing emotions like restlessness and irritability when attempting to curb or stop.
- Thinking about gambling on a regular basis; remembering past bets; planning for future endeavors.
- Gambling as a way to cope with difficult feelings like guilt, anxiety, depression, and more.
- After losing money, attempting to win that money back by gambling more.
- Deceiving others about where, when, how, and how much one is gambling.
- Risking one’s opportunities, relationships, jobs, and more (not just money) in order to wager.
- Leaning upon other people, borrowing money in order to place one’s bets. Continuing to gamble despite financial hardships.
Belief Patterns and Gambling Addictions
These symptoms of addiction can cause significant harm, but they do not tell the whole story of how a gambling addiction may take over an individual’s life. The tip of the iceberg in a gambling addiction is the placing of bets, the coin slots, and more. However, below the surface, much more is happening. Addiction can lead people into belief systems that fuel and sustain the surface behaviors. Two common beliefs that addiction can teach people are…
- Superstitions: Addictions often have rituals, and a gambling addiction’s rituals often come in the form of superstitions. These behaviors are not connected logically or physiologically to a bet’s success or failure, but in an individual’s belief system, superstitions are often the foundation of gambling. They may choose a particular slot machine or swear a certain outfit or consume a particular food. These superstitions can fuel the addiction.
- Denial: All people who are addicted can minimize the nature of their struggle, and the same holds true for addicts. They may reframe what they are doing as entertainment (although many people certainly gamble responsibly as a form of entertainment). They often deceive themselves about the consequences of the addiction.
Appointments with Thriveworks Chesterfield for Gambling Addiction Treatment
As you read through the different signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction, was there anything that stood out to you? If so, consider reaching out. Early treatment may be able to help people in their recovery. Thriveworks Chesterfield offers appointments for gambling addiction, and we are ready to meet with you. When you call our office, we do not have a voicemail, but a scheduling specialist will answer. Your first appointment may be the following day. We also accept many different insurance plans. Weekend and evening appointments are also offered. Let’s get started.