Gambling addiction is a chronic disorder, not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with age, intelligence, wealth, or social standing. Most people can gamble occasionally without getting hooked, but gambling becomes a big problem when it causes financial harm, interferes with work or school, or creates conflict with family or friends.
Left untreated, compulsive gambling can destroy relationships and lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, guilt, and shame. If you or somebody you love has a gambling addiction, there’s probably feelings of angry, frustration, or worry, and also the desire to help. The good news is that a compulsive gambling addiction is very treatable.
Understanding the Causes of Gambling Addiction
When looking to help someone with a gambling addiction, it’s important to understand how they got where they are. All addictions are complicated, and there could be many possible causes. Some people gamble because they enjoy the thrill. Others gamble to relieve emotional turmoil, cope with stressful issues such as job loss or divorce, or ease loneliness or boredom. Some may gamble in hopes of solving financial difficulties.
Problem gamblers may already have a substance abuse problem, or they attempt to relieve distress caused by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. Experts think that those with a gambling addiction may have a genetic disposition for reward-seeking behavior, or have personality traits such as impulsivity or competitiveness.
Gambling Addiction Is a Progressive Disorders That Get Worse Over Time
Researchers have learned that gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system in much the same way as drugs or alcohol. The same is true for other behavioral addictions, such as shopping, video games, pornography, or binge eating.
Like a person with a substance abuse disorder, compulsive gamblers develop a tolerance and will need more risk or higher stakes to reach the same “high.” They may experience cravings, anxiety, irritability, depression, insomnia, or other withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t gambling.
How to Help a Gambling Addict
If somebody you care about has a gambling problem, it’s time to sit down and discuss how your loved one’s gambling addiction affects you and others. Be prepared for pushback, and don’t take it personally if your loved one gets angry or defensive. Problem gamblers may deny they have a problem, even when it’s evident to everyone else.
Prepare for the discussion by learning about compulsive gambling, and look into possibilities for treatment. Visit your local library, search online for reputable websites, or talk to addiction professionals in your area. Most states provide helpful information or free treatment. Many are affiliated with the National Council on Problem Gambling,
Be straightforward, but don’t lecture, blame, judge, beg, or criticize. Stop and pick up the conversation later if things get contentious, or if you feel frustrated or angry. Most importantly, be patient and supportive and let your loved one know you care. Accept that there may be setbacks and that depression, anxiety, or other issues may arise.
Beware of Enabling a Problem Gambler
Your loved one needs to take responsibility for their gambling problem, and this may never happen if you protect them from the natural consequences of her behavior. Don’t pay bills. Don’t loan or give money. Don’t make excuses, and don’t cover up or justify their behavior. Don’t feel ashamed, guilty, or responsible, and don’t let them place the blame on your shoulders.
You may think you’re helping by constantly bailing your loved one out of trouble, but you’re actually removing motivation to change.
Best Tips to Stop Gambling
If you’re a compulsive gambler, or you know someone who is, here are some actionable ways to try and control a gambling addiction.
- As with any addiction, the first step is admitting there’s a problem and making a serious commitment to change. This is easier said than done, especially if gambling has strained relationships to the breaking point. Be honest. Acknowledge the trauma and emotional pain gambling has caused.
- Own up if your gambling problem has caused financial hardship, if you’ve depleted your savings, or if you’ve turned to fraud or theft to support your addiction. Accept that your loved ones are angry, afraid, or disappointed, and be willing to see a marriage counselor or family therapist.
- Turn your finances over to somebody you trust. Cut up your credit cards and keep only enough cash for small purchases. Close online gambling accounts and delete gambling apps on your phone. If you’re having trouble staying away from computer gambling, use a blocking tool. If necessary, make an appointment with a debt counselor to help you get your finances back on track.
- Don’t engage with gamblers in person, online, or on social media. Stay away from casinos, race tracks, bars, or any other places that may tempt you to gamble.
- If you feel a strong urge, stop and think about why you feel compelled to gamble. If the craving feels overwhelming, wait at least 30 minutes. A half-hour may feel like forever, but if you hold on, cravings often ease. Distract yourself by going for a walk, reading, or some other activity that distracts you.
- If you miss the excitement, get involved with a challenging activity, such as running, high-intensity physical training, or rock climbing. If you gamble to relieve stress, learn healthier ways of relaxing, such as deep breathing, yoga, or mindfulness meditation.
- Reach out for help. Contact state-sponsored resources or gambling addiction help in your area. Check into a treatment center or rehab, and consider joining a Twelve-Step program such as Gamblers Anonymous. Seek help if you’re struggling with substance abuse or other issues that make it harder to stop gambling.
Treatment: Gambling Addiction Programs
Treatment for gambling addiction is similar to treatment for any other addiction and usually includes education, support groups, and counseling. A doctor may prescribe medications to curb the cravings, or for depression, anxiety, ADHD, or bipolar disorder. Treatment may be residential or outpatient.
Call Today for Gambling Help
Gambling addiction is a complicated disorder that affects thousands of people in the United States. If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling problem, give us a shout. Call us at (866) 971-5531, or contact us online and we’ll discuss treatment options.