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Gambling Disorder and How to Cope

Gambling addiction, or gambling disorder, is a behavioral addiction that can be very detrimental to livelihoods, families, and mental health. A gambling disorder can be defined as a disorder that stimulates compulsive gambling, risk-taking with money, and maladaptive gambling behaviors. This can cause incredibly high amounts of stress for the individual. Gambling disorder rates have risen over the years with increased legalization, due to the convenience and accessibility of gambling. 

Characteristics of Gambling Disorder

According to The Journal of General Internal Medicine and F1000 Research, a gambling disorder can be characterized by a number of behaviors and clinical conditions. In order to be diagnosed, a person must fit 5 of the many criteria or symptoms for a gambling disorder. These criteria can include:

  • Illusions of control.
  • Compulsive behavior.
  • Dysfunctional personality traits, like high harm avoidance or high novelty seeking.
  • Preoccupation with gambling (this could mean being preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping/planning the next gambling venture, or thinking of ways to get money to gamble). 
  • Need to gamble with increased amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement. 
  • Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling. 
  • Restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut back or stop gambling. 
  • Gambles as a way of escaping problems or relieving a dysphoric mood (this can mean feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression). 
  • After losing money gambling, will often return to try and win back losses. 
  • Lies to family members, friends, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling. 
  • Has committed acts such as fraud, embezzlement, theft, or forgery to finance their gambling habit. 
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, family, job, educational, or career opportunity due to gambling costs or affiliation. 
  • Relies on others to come up with the money to relieve a downward-spiraling financial situation caused by gambling. 

To be diagnosed with a gambling disorder, a person must meet 5 or more of the above criteria, while not having a manic episode. Though gambling is fun for many, and people may feel some of the euphoria or the need to chase after losses afterward, a true gambling disorder goes far beyond the game. 

Gambling Disorder as an Addiction or Compulsion

Addictions and compulsions are mutually exclusive but can have similar traits. Addiction is a habitual need for a thing or activity, while a compulsion is the inability to not take part in a particular behavior. Compulsion has been described by some as being “forced” to do the activity, due to high stress, anxiety, panic, or fear of conflict/pain if they do not do so. The Journal of General Internal Medicine points out that gambling can certainly be an addiction, and there is evidence as such. 

Gambling can also be a compulsion, and many researchers argue that evidence supporting gambling as a compulsion seems the most relevant. However, those with diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder do not hold strong correlations with gambling. In fact, the likelihood of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder having this addiction is very small. This suggests that there is perhaps a mix of addiction and compulsion that drives those who struggle with gambling addiction to continue to gamble. 

Gambling and Substance Use

Gambling disorders are often compared to substance use disorders. This is due to the many commonalities of how substance addiction and gambling addiction begin. They both seem to begin recreationally, leading to increased amounts of pleasure/positive benefits. Then they spiral into having detrimental effects on livelihood, family, and safety as a person continues to follow their addiction. Though they are mutually exclusive, gambling and substance addictions can be reinforced by promotions like free drinks for active gamblers, smoking in gambling halls, and active drug or alcohol use surrounding the gambling environment.

Treatment for Gambling Disorder

The most common and effective treatments for gambling disorders are:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is an increasingly common form of therapy that helps patients to identify what is causing their behaviors and perceived problems and define methods to stay in the present moment and pick a different action or reaction. 
  • Motivational Interviewing: This is a practice in which a person, with a therapist, would actively compare their gambling habits with others and ask themselves questions about whether it is healthy and normal. These terms are often “justified,” which will prompt further questions from the therapist. This eventually leads to a realization that change must be made, and the conscious choice to make those changes is vital. 
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a calming practice that keeps a person in the present moment without judgment in times of stress or temptation using calming techniques. This allows a person to make a choice to change their behavior in a calm state. 

Gambling addiction or disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and the damage gambling disorders may cause can be fixed. We know you can overcome gambling disorders here at RECO Intensive. People can recover from these disorders and they do every day. Finding a way to stay in the present and make the conscious choice not to gamble can be really challenging and takes a lot of practice. Many think of the consequences of gambling disorders, or what they’ve lost. Some may also think of their goals and aspirations beyond gambling. At RECO Intensive, we understand that gambling disorder treatment requires a high level of therapy, care, and strategies for coping with loss and with your addiction. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can provide you with cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, yoga, individual therapy, and even adventure therapy for those who love adrenaline. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future.

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