The Addiction of Problem Gambling
Classification Modification: Gambling Upgrades to Addiction from Compulsion
Problem gambling’s inclusion in the list of behavioural addictions only happened fairly recently in 1980. Its classification is based on research from neuroscience, which showed that synapses in the brains of gambling addicts would light up in the same way as those of drug and alcohol addicts. Furthermore, just like drugs would lead to symptoms such as tolerance and withdrawal, so too would gambling. In fact, compulsive gamblers and drug addicts even have many of the same genetic predispositions for poor impulse control and reward seeking in common. Drugs and gambling even alter the circuits of the brain in similar ways.
Despite this, the worldwide popularity, acceptability and accessibility of gambling means that cases of compulsive gambling have unfortunately increased. Compulsive or problem gambling refers to gamblers being unable to control the impulse to gamble even when they’re hurting themselves or loved ones, or when they cannot afford to lose. Gamblers don’t need to have lives spiralling rapidly out of control in order to be addicts. As long as an individual’s life is being disrupted by their preoccupation with gambling, whether in terms of time, money or relationships, they have a gambling problem. A gambling disorder can deteriorate physical and mental well-being, finances and relationships with other people.
These findings have been revolutionary in treating problem gambling. Once the definition had been made, it was discovered that gamblers would respond much better to treatments prescribed traditionally prescribed for addictions. Cognitive behaviour therapy, for example, is a treatment that focuses on helping patients control their own thoughts and impulses. It has proven to be as effective a recovery method for problem gambling as it formerly had for drug addicts.
Starting the Road to Recovery
Recovery for a compulsive gambler is a multi-staged process, and it begins with the gambler accepting that they have a problem. Even without the urge to deny the existence of the problem however, it can be hard to identify if you’re addicted as there aren’t any obvious physical symptoms like there might be in the case of drug addiction. Many online gambling treatment websites therefore provide questionnaires to make it easier to figure out whether you have a problem.
A few key tells include the need to be secretive about your gambling, or gambling even when you’re not financially in a position to do so. If a person realizes that they are finding it hard to stop gambling once they’ve started, or if family and friends have started to express worry about them, that could be indicative of a gambling addiction.
The realization that you may have a gambling problem is a difficult one, and can be emotionally overwhelming. However, once this first hurdle has been cleared, the path to recovery opens up. A problem gambler can then start to seek help, from professionals and loved ones. For example, they can join a support group like Gamblers Anonymous, a 12 step recovery program that is modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous. It involves a mentor being assigned to each gambler, a mentor who is a former gambler and can provide guidance and support.
Additionally, gamblers trying to recover need to strengthen their support network. One of the ways gambling disrupts your life is by deteriorating your personal relationships with friends and family, so you may first have to start focusing on repairing the damage. Toughing out a battle with addiction will be doubly hard without a good support network. Support groups can make up for a limited circle of friends and family, and one can always start trying to make new friends at work or at volunteer programs. By surrounding oneself with responsible people who will make you accountable for your actions, you can make it a lot harder for yourself to start slipping into the cracks.
In the initial stages it is a good idea to give up control of your finances to a trusted friend or family member. This will limit your ability to fall into a full-blown relapse. As well as this, work out a daily or weekly budget and never carry more money than the allotted amount. Deactivate your online betting accounts and cal your bank to make automatic payments for you. Destroy your ATM card, or at least get into the habit of not carrying it around and cancel the cash out facility on your credit card. If you can, consult a financial advisor to help sort your financial situation out.
Additionally, limit your access to venues that enable gambling. Follow through with a self-imposed restriction on hotels and clubs. Avoid drinking at pubs that have poker machines. In fact, try to cut down on alcohol as much as possible. If this proves too difficult, do at least ensure you’re only drinking at non-gambling venues, and in the company of non-gambling friends. And make it a point to give in to the temptation of visiting gambling websites. Here again, you can enlist the help of family or friends and let them hold the password to a special software that will restrict your access to those websites.
Taking up a hobby can help fill up the time that would otherwise be spent gambling. As before, this is easier with a support group. Group activities and games together can fill the social void created by not gambling anymore. Hobbies like these can also help provide an outlet for the stress that previously lead you to gambling.
Other ways of reducing stress and anxiety involve you improving your lifestyle habits via diet and exercise. You can also practice relaxation strategies such as meditation or yoga.
Seeking Professional Help
Of course, sometimes it may be very difficult to treat addiction without significant professional help. There are many clinics and centres that specialize in gambling addiction treatment, or at least have a program related to it. These centres might offer inpatient treatment, where the patient resides within the facilities for a certain amount of time. Or they may provide outpatient treatment, which allow the patient more freedom to go about their daily lives.
At gambling addiction centres, clients usually have an assessment session with a certified mental health care practitioner, where they discuss together they nature and extent of the addiction in a safe and confidential environment. The problem gambler thus plays a huge part in their own treatment, as they are involved in the decision regarding what treatment is best suited to them.
The clinics usually follow one or more therapy models like the 12 Step Program, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in order to help patients along the road to recovery. Some centers prefer to create their own hybrid programs out of two or more individual models. Treatment may be on an individual or group basis. Clinics may also provide additional services, like counselling for affected family members, or financial guidance and assistance with employment opportunities. Aftercare programs are also more often than not part of the recovery process.
Problem gamblers now have wider recourse to solutions than they did before. It is therefore an unfortunate fact that around 80 percent of them never seek treatment at all. And a large percentage of those who go in for treatment relapse once it’s over. The fact remains that gambling is a pervasive addiction, and it requires a lot of fortitude and determination to get through. The cravings recur persistently and have to be repeatedly and actively ignored. It’s therefore important that people who suffered from this addiction go through their follow up programs even after having completed their course of treatment.
A Healthy Support Network
If you fear that it would only be all too easy for you to fall back into this cycle, enlist your family and friends as more active members in your recovery. Have family members attend therapy sessions with you, so that they understand the nature of your addiction. They can then be in a better position to help you out of the situation, without succumbing to the stress of the situation themselves. Loved ones often have a tendency to blame themselves for the gambling addiction of someone they are close to. A therapist can help them get over their own feelings of guilt and sadness. Therapy can also make family members more aware of the pitfalls a gambler might be susceptible to, such as rationalizing the problem or begging to have one last game. They can also learn how to reject a gambler’s request for money, even if they are being manipulative or threatening.
Gambling is a difficult trap to fall into, and it can take years of perseverance and self-control to pull oneself through recovery. With the right treatment, however, and with friends and family surrounding you, it is possible to beat the addiction. It could be helpful for patients to read success stories, and spend time around people who have kicked the habit in order to inspire and motivate themselves. With luck and dedication, they could soon join the ranks of the reformed themselves.