Tuesday September 27th 2016

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Can you get addicted to gambling?

Yes, it is possible to become addicted to gambling.

Called “compulsive” or “pathological” gambling in medical circles, gambling addiction can develop on its own over time, but can also be a symptom of a psychological condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or a side effect of certain medications.  In fact, co-occuring disorders and gambling problems are common.

How do you know if someone is a gambling addict? What can you do to help? If you’re addicted to gambling, what help is available? We’ll look at these questions and invite you to ask your own below.

What is compulsive gambling?

Compulsive gambling is when someone is unable to stop gambling despite the negative impact the habit has on their professional and personal life. Reasons for gambling vary by player, but compulsive gamblers often have a desire to escape reality in common.  A gambling addiction can take many forms: it’s just as easy to get addicted to slot machines or internet poker as it is to compulsively play blackjack.

Gambling and the brain

Compulsive gambling does not involve the use of a psychoactive substance as in drug addiction. However, the “action” that compulsive gamblers crave is an aroused, euphoric state comparable to the euphoric “high” of drugs. This aroused state is accompanied by changes in brain chemistry similar to those caused by alcohol or drugs. There may be a “rush,” often characterized by sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, and nausea which is experienced during the period of anticipation.

Why do people gamble compulsively?

There are many reasons why people become compulsive gamblers. A gambling addict may be using the game as a way to escape personal problems or feelings of guilt, depression, or helplessness. They may be excited by the thrill of the game. Often, their bets will involve high sums of money that they really can’t afford to lose, so they’ll feel compelled to keep playing in an attempt to recoup their losses.

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How do you get addicted to gambling?

A gambling addiction usually develops gradually over time. It typically begins in the late teens, but can develop at any age. Someone who has casually enjoyed social gambling in the past may become an addict in the future. Another way that a gambling habit can turn into a full-blown addiction is through a period of stress or major life changes. Frequent gambling can also become compulsive. People making an effort to distract themselves from depression or anxiety may begin to gamble compulsively.

Who gets addicted to gambling?

There are a few major risk factors for gambling addiction:

Age – Younger people are more likely than older people to have a gambling problem.

Behavior or mood disorders – People with substance abuse problems, mood/personality disorders, and ADHD are more likely to have a gambling problem than people without these problems.

Gender – Gambling addiction is more common in men than in women.

Family history – If your parents have had a gambling problem, it’s more likely you will develop one as well.

Medications – Dopamine antagonists, typically used to treat Parkinson’s disease, can sometimes have rare side effects that cause compulsive gambling.

Signs of gambling addiction

It is possible to just love gambling as a leisure activity. But here are some symptoms that can help you know if you’ve crossed the line into a gambling addiction:

  • You feel guilty or bad after you gamble, but can’t stop.
  • You lie about your gambling habit.
  • You spend time gambling when you should be at work or with family.
  • You think about gambling constantly.
  • You use money you need for everyday expenses to gamble.

Are you addicted to gambling?

If you struggle with a gambling addiction, you’re not alone. A good first step is to talk to your doctor about your problem and get a referral to a mental health provider. Help for gambling problems is available.  But the best way to kick your gambling addiction is to quit completely. It’s very difficult for people to just “cut back” in situations that trigger their desire to gamble. Addiction treatments available for compulsive gambling also include psychotherapy, medications, and self-help groups. Even with treatment, you might return to gambling if you spend time with other gamblers or in gambling environments.

Do you have more questions about gambling addiction or where to find treatment? Please let us know. We welcome all questions or comments below…and we try to respond to all questions with a prompt and personal response.

Reference sources: Medline Plus: Compulsive Gambling
Mayo Clinic topics on Compulsive Gambling
SAMSHA: Co-occuring Disorder-Related Quick Facts: Gambling

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