Gambling addiction can take a heavy toll on a person’s life, affecting their health, finances, and the well-being of those closest to them. At one time, gambling only occurred in casinos, but today it takes many forms, with people wagering, betting, and gaming online 24/7. Gambling addiction can affect everyone, from teens to adults, with around six million people in the United States struggling with compulsive gambling.
Gambling addiction occurs when a person keeps gambling, even when it causes adverse outcomes. People with this condition will no longer be able to control their gambling activities and continue to gamble even after losing all of their money. While addiction is a complex issue, the wide availability of treatment options means you can overcome the destructive cycle and regain control of your life.
While gambling can be just as stimulating in the brain’s reward system as other addictive substances, the exact cause of compulsive gambling isn’t known. Experts believe it could result from a combination of factors that make people more susceptible. These factors can include the following:
Additionally, the increasing prevalence of different types of gambling also makes it easier for people to develop compulsive gambling issues. While any gambling — from racing and bingo to card games or slot machines — can become problematic, some types have specific characteristics that might intensify the issue and consequences, such as games where there is a short time between placing a bet and seeing the results.
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to break the cycle when gambling addiction takes hold. A person can develop a severe addiction when they feel financially desperate and cannot recover their lost money. Most compulsive gamblers won’t come close to breaking even after collecting money from a massive win.
While most people who gamble never develop an addiction, certain factors put people at risk of compulsive gambling, including:
People with problem gambling often have other mental health issues like substance use disorders, personality disorders, depression, or anxiety. Gambling addiction is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Gambling addictions are more common among younger and middle-aged people. Research shows gambling during childhood or teenage years increases a person’s risk of developing an addiction. However, compulsive gambling is also an issue in the older adult population.
Older adults may be particularly vulnerable to gambling-related problems due to losses experienced in their personal lives such as social isolation, loneliness, or a lower income. Gamblers might desire to make up for these losses through winnings in gambling by increasing their participation.
Research also finds men are over seven times more likely than women to develop gambling addictions.
Research shows specific medications can increase a person’s chances of developing a gambling addiction. Dopamine agonists, used to treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome, have a rare side effect of compulsive behaviors in some people. These medicines can result in risky behaviors like compulsive gambling, binge eating, shopping, and other behaviors that may begin or worsen.
Family history also seems to play a significant role in the risk profile of people who develop gambling problems. One study found veterans in treatment for substance use disorder who reported their parents were compulsive gamblers were three times as likely to have gambling addictions themselves. Additionally, participants who perceived their grandparents as having gambling problems were 12 times as likely to meet the criteria for gambling addiction on screening measures.
People who are highly competitive, impulsive, restless, or easily bored are found to be at an increased risk of developing compulsive behaviors like gambling. A lesser-researched area of comorbid gambling addiction is the link between problem gambling and other non-substance-related behaviors that can become harmful, including video game playing, internet use, sex, eating, and compulsive shopping habits.
Gambling doesn’t just affect the person struggling with the addiction — it has far-reaching consequences that impact the lives of those around them. The longer a gambling addiction continues without professional treatment, the more likely it will affect a person’s relationships, work, or stability of life.
Gambling addiction can have the following short and long-term effects:
Recent studies have explored the connection between gambling addictions and general health status. People with gambling addictions often report long sessions lasting from hours to days without sleep or food. The impact on physical and emotional stress can be dramatic.
Elevated stress levels aren’t just confined to the casino. With escalating debt and financial issues, there can be an increased urgency to continue the cycle by spending more time and energy gambling or attempting to cover it up. All together, gambling addictions can lead to chronic stress that can have physical health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and peptic ulcer disease.
Sleep deprivation is another common effect of gambling addiction. The problem often arises due to 24-hour access to casinos and environmental controls that hide the passage of time. Sleep deprivation can significantly impact a person’s mental health, including motor and cognitive impairment, mood swings, and immune system issues.
Another indirect consequence of compulsive gambling is the increased risk of developing substance use disorders, which can cause medical problems. People with gambling addictions may struggle with nicotine or alcohol dependence due to casino environments and the availability of free alcohol and second-hand smoke. Stressful situations can also increase a person’s risk of self-medicating with substances.
Having a substance use disorder can make it more challenging to treat gambling addiction, making it essential to learn how to identify these comorbid disorders.
Winning, losing, and continually searching for ways to gamble can significantly impact a person’s mental health. Compulsive gambling can trigger or worsen depressive symptoms, generalized anxiety, and personality disorders. While depression may cause people to self-medicate by gambling, the activity can increase symptoms of guilt, hopelessness, shame, and desperation.
Studies also show a strong connection between gambling and suicidal ideation or attempts, most likely immediately after experiencing a significant loss. In addition to increased depressive symptoms, compulsive gambling has a direct effect on anxiety. Many people with a gambling addiction also struggle with fear, worry, and anxiety, as they are desperate to recover losses immediately.
Perhaps the most concrete effects of problem gambling are the social consequences. Gambling addiction can lead to financial loss, bankruptcies, lost time at work, increased crime, and emotional hardships faced by the families of those struggling. Gambling addiction can also often lead to deception and social isolation, which can affect a person’s social life and family dynamics.
While gambling addiction can have consequences on a person’s mental, physical, social, and financial health, professional treatment can effectively end the cycle. Standard treatment options for gambling addiction include:
Seeking professional gambling addiction treatment near you can help you overcome the unhealthy cycle.
At Gateway Foundation, we provide various treatment options to help you overcome gambling addiction and get you on a healthy path. The process for treating gambling addiction includes the following:
Evidence-based behavioral therapies and holistic methods can treat a person’s addiction symptoms and underlying causes.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, mental health professionals will help you identify the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors associated with your gambling addiction to replace them with new, healthy ones. In therapy sessions, you can gradually change your feelings to modify the gambling behavior and regain control of your life.
Therapists can also help treat any co-occurring mental health conditions you may have developed before or due to your gambling addiction. For instance, you may realize that you gamble to self-medicate your stress, anxiety, or depression. In therapy, counselors can help you learn how to process your emotions appropriately and practice calming mindfulness techniques in moments of stress.
Addressing the underlying problems of your addiction rather than just the symptoms is crucial for your long-term health and happiness.
Medically assisted treatment can be effective for gambling addictions and underlying health conditions. After all, it’s essential to treat co-occurring disorders for treatment to be effective. Antidepressants can treat issues like depression and anxiety that may result from or lead to gambling, while narcotic antagonists can reduce the craving to gamble.
Joining a compulsive gambling support group is an excellent way to practice self-help and gain a sense of belonging. Gateway Foundation provides 12-step fellowships to help people receive encouragement to abstain from gambling. These meetings can help you receive support, validation, and advice to overcome addiction and stay healthy.
Building healthy habits is also a crucial step in gambling addiction treatment. You might partake in healthy hobbies at treatment centers, like exercise, yoga, or hiking. Establishing a healthy routine can be highly effective for your recovery success.
Therapeutic art can also help you replace unhealthy coping mechanisms to refrain from gambling. These activities might include playing or creating music, painting, or drawing. Therapeutic art can also help promote self-expression to relieve deep-seated emotions and examine addiction’s effects on your life.
There are so many benefits of seeking professional help at a gambling addiction treatment center, such as:
Answers to common questions about gambling addiction treatment include:
People who suspect themselves of having gambling problems can participate in the Illinois exclusion list program. Applying to the voluntary self-exclusion program can keep you away from casinos and other places to help you abstain from gambling. You can learn more about Illinois’ problem gambling services on the state government website.
Since denial is a primary feature of compulsive behavior, it can be challenging to recognize when you have a gambling problem. It may be time to seek treatment for gambling if you display the following signs:
Most casual gamblers stop after losing a predetermined amount of money. But people with a compulsive gambling problem feel an uncontrollable urge to continue playing and recover their money — a pattern that becomes more destructive over time. Recognizing these signs in yourself or a loved one early can help you seek treatment as soon as possible.
Gambling addiction can pose serious issues for a person’s social, physical, mental, and financial health. At Gateway Foundation, we can help you overcome the addictive cycle and treat any co-occurring health disorders.
Our highly experienced team of addiction professionals can work with you to develop a custom treatment plan that addresses your unique situation. At Gateway, we are with you for life. Our warm, welcoming treatment center can help you open up about your addiction struggles, build a support network and improve your overall health.
To learn more about our gambling addiction treatment programs, contact us today.
Gateway was one of the best decisions of my life they truly saved me from the road I was headed down! I would love to thank the staff and of course my amazing counselor Adrain really helped me refocus my life on the right path without gateway I wouldn’t have made it thank you and I love this place I always come back to alumni meeting and events.
My family member just competed her 28 day stay she had a great experience the staff is wonderful and treated her with respect and went above and beyond to help her. Gateway saved my family members life. It was not easy finding a nice inpatient rehab and gateway made the whole process very smooth we are so thankful we found this facility. Thank you gateway.
Spent some time here and got some great tools to help me in my recovery. My counselors in the women’s unit were great and supportive. Love the monthly alumni meetings after treatment, great way to stay connected.
A little over 7 years ago I decided to seek treatment for alcohol and drug addiction and chose this facility as a place to try and arrest my disease and I have been clean and sober ever since. After 30 days inpatient treatment and 9 months outpatient I was able to achieve that goal. I recommend this facility to anyone who truly wants freedom from active addiction.
This place honestly saved my life. I was so bad my counselor said in the 2 years she was working there my case was the most unique she’s ever had, and now I’m almost 15 months clean!