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Gambling Addiction: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Gambling addiction refers to a type of impulse-control disorder where individuals have little or no control over their urge to gamble, despite the adverse effects of the behavior. Gambling has become a necessary part of an addict’s life, engaging in it for diverse reasons including using it as a means of escape from reality.

The symptoms of gambling addiction include inability to stop gambling despite attempts to quit, stealing or selling property to gamble, financial problems, psychological withdrawal, doing dangerous things to gamble, etc.

Mental health issues, personality traits, friend or family influence, and biological factors like gender and age are some of the risk factors of gambling addiction.

Gambling addiction is treated comprehensively using a combination of therapy, support groups, and medications (for dual diagnosis).

What are the Types of Gambling

Gambling addiction are of different types which include:

  • Professional Gambling: this category of gamblers is experts or pros. They leverage gambling skills to make money. They are usually in control of their gambling behaviors.
  • Antisocial Personality Gambling: this category of gamblers is antisocial and tends to engage in illegal betting. They have a personality disorder that increases the risk of compulsive behaviors.
  • Casual Social Gambling: gambling is a form of recreation or entertainment for this category of gamblers.
  • Serious Social Gambling: it involves regular gambling but without obsession. However, the risk of gambling addiction here is higher than for casual social gamblers.
  • Relief and Escape Gambling: Here, individuals use gambling to escape reality such as stress, anxiety, etc. They are at a very high risk of gambling addiction.
  • Compulsive-Pathological Gambling: gamblers in this category have control over their gambling behaviors. They have developed a gambling addiction.

What are the Causes or Risk Factors of Gambling Addiction?

Most people who gamble don’t develop addiction, leading to questions about what causes gambling addiction. Gambling addiction results from a combination of several factors, including biological and environmental influences. The causes of gambling addiction include:

  • Mental health conditions: personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are some mental health issues associated with gambling addiction.
  • Medications: some medications, such as dopamine agonists used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, have side effects that sometimes lead to compulsive behaviors like gambling.
  • Personality characteristics: individuals who are very competitive, impulsive, and easily bored have a higher risk of developing gambling addiction.
  • Family or friend influence: individuals with family members or friends who have gambling issues are more likely to develop gambling addiction themselves.
  • Gender and age: compulsive gambling is more popular among men and younger and middle-aged individuals. Also, individuals who start gambling early are at a higher risk of gambling addiction.

What are the Signs of Gambling Addiction?

It is often not easy to identify gambling addiction because chronic gamblers usually have what seems like a normal life. However, serious problems are rumbling in the background and will eventually erupt with far-reaching consequences if left unaddressed. Some of the most common symptoms of gambling addiction are:

  • Obsession with gambling: this is perhaps the first noticeable sign of gambling addiction. Individuals who are addicted to gambling are often so obsessed with gambling that almost nothing else matters. Gambling obsession is not just in action, but also in thought.
  • Inability to stop gambling: another prominent sign of gambling addiction is the inability to quit gambling, despite making sincere efforts to stop. Many people often overlook or dismiss this sign, offering some kind of explanation. It must, however, be addressed, as quickly as possible, when noticed.
  • Gambling despite adverse effects: excessive gambling often causes serious problems such as financial crisis in the lives of affected individuals. The logical thing or natural response to such things is to stop doing them, but addicted individuals continue gambling despite its consequences.
  • Psychological withdrawal when not gambling: just like other addictions, like drug addiction, gambling addiction often leads to affected individuals becoming restless, irritable, or depressed when they are not gambling. This happens because gambling has become a functional part of their lives, without which something feels missing. Hence, they manifest psychological withdrawal.
  • Gambling to improve happiness or using gambling as an escape: people generally gamble as a means of entertainment, but it quickly morphs into something else for some people. Gambling becomes a necessary part of their happiness, not just a means of fun. Individuals addicted to gambling also often use it as a means of escape from challenges.
  • Doing dangerous things to gamble: gambling addiction causes individuals to engage in dangerous acts such as stealing. They do almost anything to get money to gamble. If they happen to temporarily move to new areas where online gambling is not legal, they may still go ahead with gambling despite the potential high costs.
  • Denying there is a problem or hiding gambling behavior: a general of all types of addiction is denial. So, regardless of the obvious signs, addicted individuals typically deny there’s a problem. Similarly, they also hide gambling behaviors from family and friends to avoid scrutiny. This is, however, a good sign because it shows they have recognized there is a problem.
  • Financial problems: gambling addicts almost certainly end up in financial trouble. When they are out of personal money, they depend on others to fund their gambling behaviors. They also often end up in debt.
  • Selling possession to gamble: this is a result of financial troubles. Gambling addicts also resort to selling off properties to fund their gambling behaviors.
  • Avoiding responsibilities or commitments because of gambling
  • Feeling guilty after gambling

What are the Complications of Gambling Addiction?

The life complications caused by compulsive gambling include:

  • Financial problems: as explained above, compulsive gambling often lands individuals in serious financial problems, such as bankruptcy and debts.
  • Legal problems or imprisonment: stealing to gamble, breaking gambling laws, not being able to repay debts are some of the implications of compulsive gambling that leave individuals with serious legal problems that may include serving a jail term.
  • Poor work performance or job loss: gambling obsession causes individuals to neglect key responsibilities, including their jobs. Time and efforts that go into their job duties are directed towards gambling, leading to poor work performance that could lead to job loss.
  • Relationship problems: psychological withdrawal and not fulfilling responsibilities caused by gambling addiction are major problems to building good relationships.
  • General health problems: gambling addicts are so focused on gambling that they neglect their general well-being. They also sometimes use money meant for their medication, if they have health conditions, to gamble.
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts: Problems such as job loss, debts, and legal battles often lead to depression and ultimately suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, some gambling addicts end up attempting suicide.

How Can I Help a Gambling Addict?

As a family member or friend of a gambling addict, things are often complicated for you. Hence, it is best to discover it early. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to discover because the signs are not as obvious as those of drug or alcohol addiction. However, signs such as irritation, depression, and insomnia are often easily noticed. Helping an individual with addiction is typically daunting, but a full recovery is often achieved if you do the right things and with their cooperation. 

Once you suspect a friend or family member has developed a gambling addiction, do the following:

Have a conversation with the individual: the first thing to do is speak with the individual in a private, calm, and safe environment about your concern about their gambling behaviors. Focus on addiction being the problem, not the individual, and mention how people around them are being affected. Do not judge and emphasize your love for them.

Listen to them talk: having expressed your concerns and observations, it is time to hear from them. Listen to what they have to say. If they are not ready to talk, encourage them to think about their gambling behaviors and perhaps suggest where they can get help. If they speak to you and acknowledge the problem, suggest where they can get help and express your readiness to walk the path with them.

What are the Treatment Methods Available for Gambling Addiction?

While it is usually hard to stop compulsive gambling, gambling addiction can be effectively treated. A combination of personalized plans are used by professionals to help individuals make a full recovery and get back to living productive lives. The treatment options include:

Therapy

A comprehensive program of addiction therapy is the most effective way of addressing compulsive gambling. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are used to help individuals understand their addiction, know the triggers, and see how they can change negative thoughts and behaviors.

Medication for a Dual Diagnosis

Often, gambling addiction is caused by or occurs alongside mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Effective treatment of gambling addiction cannot be done without addressing the associated mental health issues. Hence, medications are often prescribed by professionals.

Support groups

The overwhelming and lonely nature of recovery makes getting adequate support vital. People in recovery are put in or join groups where they are able to share things about their recovery and get helpful tips. This helps to significantly reduce the risk of relapse.

Note: all the above methods are often used together. The settings is either be inpatient or outpatient, depending on the needs of individuals.

How can Gambling Addiction be Prevented?

Gambling addiction is commonly prevented in a number of ways. Firstly, individuals who are at a higher risk of compulsive gambling should consider avoiding all forms of gambling. They should also avoid people who gamble and gambling locations. It is also imperative not to be exposed to gambling too early, hence parents should protect their kids. Finally, if you observe any signs of gambling addiction, get help immediately.

Can cryptocurrency trading be classified under gambling addiction?

Cryptocurrency trading can potentially be classified under gambling addiction when it involves high-risk, speculative behaviors that lead to compulsive engagement and negative life impacts, mirroring the psychological patterns seen in gambling addicts. The thrill of potentially large gains, similar to the rewards sought in gambling, can activate the brain’s reward circuits. When such trading behavior becomes compulsive—characterized by an overwhelming focus on market fluctuations, frequent trades, and distress when not trading—it reflects the core attributes of gambling addiction. Moreover, when this activity starts affecting one’s financial stability, relationships, and mental health detrimentally, it further underscores its alignment with gambling addiction. This is usually called cryptocurrency addiction.

What are the types of gambling addiction?

There are various types of gambling, including Compulsive Gambling, where individuals cannot control their urge to gamble regardless of the consequences; Problem Gambling, which disrupts personal and professional life but isn’t as all-consuming as compulsive gambling; Binge Gambling, characterized by uncontrollable gambling during sporadic episodes after long periods of abstinence; and Escape Gambling, where individuals use gambling as a means to flee from emotional or psychological distress. Each type has varying impacts and requires appropriate intervention and treatment strategies to address the specific issues involved.

Are Gambling Addicts Usually Addicted to Other Things?

Generally, an individual with a particular addiction problem is more vulnerable to other addictions. For instance, individuals with gambling addictions also sometimes have drug or alcohol use disorders. However, some individuals with gambling addiction issues don’t have any other addiction problems.

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