Gambling therapy for lasting change and well-being
Nearly 10 million Americans have a gambling addiction. In most states, gambling is legal, which makes it easy for people to justify their behavior. But gambling and co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression are closely linked. Gambling therapy focuses on changing unhealthy behaviors while treating co-occurring disorders.
At Renewed Light in West Deptford, New Jersey, our skilled therapists help you identify core issues and triggers for gambling while introducing you to new skills, tools, and ways of thinking to help you break free of addictive patterns of behavior. Find out more about admissions.
What is gambling?
Gambling is when a person takes the risk of losing money or belongings in a game or bet. Whether buying a lottery ticket or betting on a football game, most people gamble occasionally. But it’s important to be a responsible gambler and know when to stop.
There are two types of gambling:
- Chance-based gambling – The results are random, people cannot influence the win or loss, and the odds are equal for everyone. Examples include lottery tickets, bingo, and gaming machines.
- Skill-based gambling – A person’s ability or skill can influence a win or loss, and the odds of winning are not the same for everyone. Examples include betting on races and playing poker or blackjack.
What is a gambling addiction?
Gambling has become an addiction when gambling goes from having harmless fun to an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Without gambling therapy, the gambling problem will continue to negatively affect finances, relationships, and other aspects of life.
Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers, for example, will gamble whether they are broke or have money and regardless of the consequences to themselves or their loved ones.
The psychiatric community previously considered gambling a compulsion and not an addiction. Further research, however, shows a gambling addiction is similar to alcohol and drug addiction. Like drugs and alcohol, gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system, causing it to be the most common impulse control disorder worldwide.
How does gambling affect the brain?
Similar to drugs like cocaine and meth, gambling addiction triggers a dopamine release in the brain. Addiction affects the brain’s reward system and can release ten times the normal amount of dopamine.
People who continue to gamble will develop a tolerance. In addition, gambling addiction stops the natural release of dopamine, requiring more risks to achieve the same thrill or rush.
Gambling addiction stops the natural release of dopamine, requiring more risks to achieve the same thrill or rush.
Like tolerance in drug and alcohol addiction, tolerance in gambling leads to bigger and riskier bets and ventures. Furthermore, researchers found gamblers and drug users have common genetic predispositions for reward-seeking and being impulsive.
Gamblers also experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut back or stop gambling. Getting therapy for gambling can help manage withdrawal and teach you healthy coping skills you can practice for the rest of your life.
What are the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction?
The tell-tale sign of gambling addiction is being consumed with gambling. Compulsive gamblers’ days are consumed with gambling activities despite the negative consequences.
Common signs and symptoms a person needs gambling therapy include:
- Always thinking about gambling
- Gambling in secret
- Gambling even though you don’t have the money
- Lack of control over gambling
- Risking higher amounts of money
- Restlessness or irritability when unable to gamble
- Using gambling to escape personal and mental health issues
- Continuing to gamble to win back losses
- Spending less time with family and friends
- Risking relationships or careers due to gambling
- Lying or stealing for gambling money
Gambling addiction is a destructive cycle. Losing is inevitable, and those with a gambling addiction will keep playing, trying to recoup their money. Most of the time, however, people continue to lose. This leads to feeling bad, so they gamble even more. This cycle can lead to physical, emotional, and financial catastrophe.
What are the risk factors of compulsive gambling?
Various risk factors increase the risk of compulsive gambling addiction. Common risk factors include genetics, biology, and the environment. Other factors also increase the risk of developing an addiction to gambling.
Personal risk factors of gambling addiction include:
- Age – People of any age can develop a gambling addiction, but it’s more common in younger and middle-aged people. Gambling in the teen years can increase the development of gambling addiction.
- Gender – Gambling addiction is more common in men. However, women who start gambling later in life can quickly develop an addiction.
- Influences of friends and family – When friends or family struggle with gambling, it can increase a person’s risk of gambling addiction. This is because the consequences of gambling are viewed as acceptable.
- Mental health disorder – People with a gambling addiction often have co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Medication side effects – Some medications may have rare side effects resulting in compulsive behaviors.
- Personality characteristics – Characteristics such as being highly competitive, a workaholic, impulsive, or easily bored can increase the development of gambling addiction.
How does a gambling addiction affect mental health?
For many people, gambling is harmless fun, but a gambling addiction can seriously affect mental health. In fact, gambling addictions can lead to mental disorders, which worsen the gambling addiction. That’s why gambling therapy includes treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.
Gambling addiction and co-occurring depression
Many people feel moments of depression temporarily. But for people with a gambling addiction, co-occurring depression may increase. This is because people with gambling addictions typically gamble more than they mean to, create more financial issues for themselves, and are unsuccessful when they try to stop gambling.
People struggling with gambling addictions may have trouble finding joy in anything other than gambling. Co-occurring depression in those with a gambling addiction can lead to suicidal thoughts, making it crucial to seek therapy.
Gambling addiction and co-occurring PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you experience debilitating stress and anxiety levels due to previous trauma. Evidence suggests a link between gambling and PTSD.
Similar to gambling and co-occurring depression, compulsive gamblers often gamble to cope with PTSD. Dual-diagnosis gambling therapy incorporates evidence-based treatment for health disorders such as PTSD.
What to expect from gambling therapy
Like all addictions, gambling addiction is manageable but not curable. Gambling therapy involves teaching of coping skills to prevent a gambling relapse. Therapy for gambling addiction also teaches you how to have a healthy relationship with money.
Outpatient gambling therapy
Compulsive gamblers often attend outpatient treatment for gambling addiction. Outpatient treatment allows compulsive gamblers to participate in various therapies while still working and tending to their daily responsibilities. In addition to individual and group therapy and support, outpatient therapy for gambling addiction typically includes attending 12-step meetings such as Gamblers Anonymous (GA).
Individual gambling therapy
During individual gambling therapy, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist. The therapist may use a variety of techniques, such as motivational interviewing (MI), to help manage your gambling addiction. Individual therapy can help you:
- Strengthen your motivation
- Identify triggers and unhealthy coping skills
- Learn healthy coping skills for stress and triggers
Group gambling therapy
People with gambling addictions often hide it from friends and family. This typically leads to feeling alone. Group gambling therapy helps build a support network of people with gambling addictions overcoming the same issues. In group therapy for gambling addiction, people share their experiences, struggles, and successes to help one another and receive support and guidance.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for gambling
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy often used to facilitate group and individual therapy sessions. CBT focuses on self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. This is highly beneficial for people who suffer from gambling addiction as CBT helps correct the delusional thinking of compulsive gambling, such as believing you can win despite the devastating losses.
Gambling therapy and medication
Gambling therapy may include medication-assisted treatment depending on co-occurring mental health disorders. For example, mental health issues such as bipolar disorder can increase cravings for gambling. Managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder decreases the risk of relapse.
Outpatient gambling therapy in New Jersey
If you suffer from a gambling problem or a mental health disorder, you’re not alone. More than 50 percent of Americans will get diagnosed with a behavioral health disorder during their lifetime. Fortunately, Renewed Light offers a range of outpatient therapy options and programs that can help you take back your life. Located in West Deptford, New Jersey, we serve all of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.