Compulsive Gambling

1 What is Compulsive Gambling?

Compulsive gambling, or gambling addiction, is an impulse-control disorder, in which a person is unable to stop gambling.

They fail to keep the urge even when they know that gambling is affecting themselves and their near and dear ones.

They continue to gamble when they are broke or depressed. They are unable to keep themselves off the bet, even when they are sure to lose.

This addiction can have very serious consequences and even disrupt one’s life. Professional help is very important in preventing and treating this disorder.

2 Symptoms

Unlike drug and alcohol use disorder, compulsive gambling may not have obvious signs or symptoms, and hence is referred to as hidden illness.

Most of the compulsive gamblers deny the problem and try to hide their gambling. They often stay aloof, sneak around, and lie about their activities.

They tend to be secretive about gambling as they feel that others may not understand the need for gambling.

Compulsive gamblers have great difficulty in controlling the urge to gamble. They often stay till the last dollar is over. Losses make them desperate to get back what they have lost and hence they may gamble even when they don’t have enough money. This makes them sell, steal, or borrow to gamble for what they want to get back. Several attempts to cut back on gambling ends in failure.

For a compulsive gambler every event is an excuse to gamble, be it anxiety or sadness. Most of them tend to lose their job, or a career to gambling. Compulsive gamblers also have period of remission when they do not join the bet as much as they used to.

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3 Causes

The cause of compulsive gambling is similar to alcohol and drug addiction, and seems to have involvement of a part of the brain. Compulsive gambling usually has its beginning in adolescence in men, and in the age group of 20-40 in women. 

Gambling is thought to affect the pleasure center of the brain which gives a feeling of ‘high’ as in drug abuse. But the root cause of compulsive gambling is not clear.

A number of factors – genetic, environmental, and biologic – influence the development of compulsive gambling.

Some of the common risk factors for the development of this impulse-control disorder are:

  • Other behavior disorder
  • Family influence
  • Certain medication like dopamine agonists
  • Some traits like being restless, or being highly competitive

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of compulsive gambling is based on the symptom criteria given by the American Psychiatric Association.

Any compulsive gambler will have at least four or more of the symptoms given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

This includes:

  • Prioritize gambling – planning based on past experiences
  • Feel excited about gambling with increased risk
  • Failed attempts to cut back or stop gambling
  • Feel restless when gambling is reduced or stopped
  • Problems in life considered as an excuse for gambling
  • Gambles more to get back the lost money
  • Gambles secretively
  • Loses job or relationship to gambling
  • Borrows or steals money for gambling

5 Treatment

Recognizing the problem is the first step in the treatment of compulsive gambling.

Psychotherapy, self-help groups and medications are the major treatment methods for a compulsive gambler.

Behavior therapy helps one to unlearn the bad behavior and to control the urge to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to develop more positive thoughts for a healthy life.

Psychological disorders like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often seen associated with compulsive gambling. Treating these disorders with antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help in controlling compulsive gambling.

Self-help groups often help in relieving the unpleasant experiences without gambling. They help to find alternate ways to handle the difficult times without indulging in gambling.

6 Prevention

It is not always possible to prevent compulsive gambling. Limiting the exposure and helping to understand the consequences of gambling may help in controlling the intense urge to gamble.

Intervening at the earliest possible sign of compulsive gambling is important in preventing the disorder.

Counselling may help in case of people who are prone to addictive behaviors.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Support of family and friends are the only known alternative remedy for treating this disorder.

Compulsive form of gambling need professional help to realize the impact of their behavior. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with compulsive gambling.

Developing recovery skills help to control the urge to gambling, particularly when one feels that you may win the next time.

Understand the risk and ask for help, when required.

Manage issues of life through positive thoughts and work.

This will take away the mind from gambling.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with compulsive gambling.

More than health issues, compulsive gambling result in long-term consequences in life.

This includes problems in relationships, financial and legal issues, loss of job opportunities, social stigma, other disorders like depression, and self-hurting thoughts.

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