Monte Carlo. Las Vega. Reno. Atlantic City. Several decades ago, these were the iconic vacation destinations for anyone who wanted to gamble. That perception, however, is changing. Forty-eight states have made some form of gambling legal. The Internet has made placing a bet easier than ever. Instead of taking a vacation to gamble, more and more people are doing so in their own home. Many people who gamble do so responsibly. They set their wagers. They celebrate their wins. They take their losses. They move forward with their lives without a second thought. Many people also struggle with gambling. Their lives are negatively impacted by their gambling, and they may be addicted. Just as other behaviors, like shopping or sex, can become addictive, so can gambling. When a gambling addiction develops, it changes an individual’s brain. It produces the classic symptoms of addiction, but it also responds to treatment. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven an effective treatment for an addiction to gambling.
“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 mental health professionals at Thriveworks Peachtree City offer therapy for gambling addiction. We know that gambling can cause significant harm, but we also know what it takes to heal.
Gambling, the Brain, and Addiction
Mental health professionals have known for a while that gambling can cause trouble in some people’s lives, but the extent to which it causes harm is just now being discovered. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) had categorized gambling compulsion in its chapter on impulse control disorders. In the current edition, DSM-5, it categorizes gambling compulsion in its chapter on addiction.
A number of studies informed this change. Researchers have studied what is happening in an individual’s brain when gambling becomes compulsive, and what is going on in the brain when people become addicted to gambling is the same as when they become addicted to shopping or sex or opioids or alcohol. When people become addicted to gambling, dopamine, a feel-good hormone, has flooded their brain. They experience a high as they gamble, and that feeling is what keeps them coming back. That feeling is what leads them to prioritize gambling over their own well-being and over the well-being of others. To recover from addiction, brain balance has to be restored.
Gambling Addiction’s Diagnostics
The magazine Scientific American studied people who are addicted to gambling and found 1 in 165 men will become addicted to gambling at some point in their lives and 1 in 500 women will be as well. That is about 2 million people in the US who are struggling with a gambling addiction.
Certainly, people can gamble and not have a problem, just like not all people who shop become addicted. The DSM-5 outlines what behaviors fit the definition of gambling addiction. An individual who exhibits at least four of these for a minimum of one year may be addicted to gambling:
- Allocating more and more funds for gambling and spending more time gambling in order to experience the same high.
- Feeling irritable and restless when trying to curb gambling or stop it.
- Spending a significant amount of time on a regular basis thinking about bets, remembering past experiences of gambling, and/or making arrangement for future gambles.
- Using gambling as an escape or as a way to handle challenging circumstances and feelings like anxiety, depression, guilt, and more.
- After a loss, double down one’s efforts, trying to win the money back through more gambling.
- Lying to loved ones about how much, when, and where one gambles.
- Prioritizing gambling above all else; sacrificing relationships, financial stability, professional advancement, social opportunities, and more in order to gamble.
- Borrowing money in order to gamble; refusing to quite despite financial trouble.
Negative Thinking Patterns and Gambling Addictions
Even a passing glance at the signs of addiction can show how much harm it can cause, but these behaviors are the tip of the iceberg. Below the water is a pattern of distorted beliefs that addiction teaches people and that keep people entrapped in addiction. Two examples of these distorted beliefs include…
- Superstitions: These rituals have no physiological or logical connection to a gambler’s success or failure, but they often play a key role in addiction formation. People may fixate upon a particular article of clothing to wear or a certain slot machine to use. These superstitions can add fuel to the fire of addiction.
- Denial: Addiction keep people in denial about the trouble they are causing. Addiction often minimizes the problem or the effects. It can reframe actions to cover its tracks. Denial is a strong belief pattern.
Thriveworks Peachtree City Offers Gambling Addiction Treatment—Scheduling an Appointment
Was there anything that stood out to you as you read about gambling addiction? If you recognized any of the signs of addiction in your own life, it may be time to reach out. Consider scheduling an appointment at Thriveworks Peachtree City. Our therapists are ready to meet with you. When you contact our office, your first appointment may be within 24 hours. We offer evening and weekend sessions, but we do not keep a waitlist. Our therapists are credentialed with many different insurance companies so they can accept a variety of insurance plans. Let’s get started. Call today.