Is gambling an addiction?

Do all people who gamble get addicted to the thrill of winning? Is gambling an addiction. No. But to be sure you’re not addicted, we review the qualities of gambling addiction and pathological gambling here.

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What is an addict?

Many experts consider anyone who uses a substance or behavior that is detrimental to self, despite harmful consequences, and one who demonstrates a recurring compulsion to repeat destructive behavior or actions to be an addict. Whether one would acknowledge the behavior or not, or has tried to stop the behavior prior, makes no difference.

The addict is one, where the behavior has shown to intensify over time and consequences have increased. The consequences include damage to social, personal, and /or mental functioning. This would include damage to physical body , brain functioning, and interpersonal relationships.

Gambling for most people is not an addiction

Gambling can and may fall into the category above. The short answer is that gambling can be an addiction. However, gambling in and of itself is not an addiction. Only 10 % of the gambling population falls into the category of addiction and need to pursue help with their behavior. 90% of people that gamble walk away and go on with their life unaffected by their trip to the casino. They may feel remorse for their night out, but they consider their night as one of entertainment and excitement, much like that of a social drinker.

The signs of pathological gambling

The common behavior of the gambling addict would be better defined as an extreme, uncontrolled and unreasonable behavior which falls under the terminology of pathologically response.  Pathological gambling according to the DSM-IV is defined as maladaptive behavior that includes at least five of the following ten behaviors:

1.    a preoccupation with gambling
2.    an increasing amount of money needed to achieve the de4sired excitement
3.    repeated unsuccessful efforts to control or stop
4.    restlessness when attempting to cut down or stop
5.    using gambling as a way of escaping or relieving feelings of depression
6.    chasing lost money by trying to break even
7.    hiding or trying to conceal the extent of gambling losses
8.    jeopardizing relationships
9.    soliciting help from others to deal with financial problems as a result of gambling
10.  committing illegal acts to finance gambling

What Causes Gambling?

May be a learned behavior
May be caused by the attempt to impress others
May be an attempt to punish oneself by losing
May be an effort to chase after an endorphin high that comes from winning
May be an attempt to reduce the stress of loneliness, anger, or depression
May be an attempt to deal with the death or loss of a loved one
And in some cases, obsessive behavior that is learned, may be continued in family lines

What the Bible Says about gambling

In the book of Luke, 12:15 we are told to be watchful against greed, and in the ten commandments we are told not to covet anything that does not belong to us.  In the book of Proverbs we are encouraged to earn and not to seek financial gain without honest labor (21:25-26). Clearly, the Bible warns us to avoid the temptation and lure of ill gotten gains.

When people seek help for problem gambling

In conclusion, gambling may cause addictions, but gambling is not necessarily an addiction. It is a learned behavior that can be changed if the individual is willing to deal with it. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, then please, seek help. The gambling addict who finally seeks help, on average, has incurred at least $40,000.00 in debt for himself or others.   Quite often, the gambler stops on their own when incarcerated or runs out of options.

Reference sources:
Dr. Steve’s ‘Breaking the Addiction Cycle Now’ e-workbook
Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling 2nd ed.  Benner and Hill, 1999 Grand Rapids, MI
Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.
About the author
Dr. Jackson received his Doctorate in Christian Counseling from Omega Bible Institute and Seminary in 2009. He developed the Christian recovery treatment programs for Calvary Rehab Center and the Genesis Center for Recovery. He has trained and practiced Christian Counseling in all areas of drug/alcohol/gambling/sex and relationship addictions. He currently has his own web based online program called 12 Day Rehab Systems, designed for those who can work on recovery while maintaining career and family obligations. Dr. Jackson has been clean and sober since 1984. Learn more about Recovery with Dr. Steve.
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