Gambling is a fun form of entertainment. Who doesn’t like playing to win easy money? But the fun stops when it starts to become addictive.

Gambling comes in many forms: slot machines, online casinos, sports betting, and even bingo. Compulsive gamblers win easy or lose big time in a matter of days. The euphoric rush that comes with winning makes you want more. That’s why it has become addictive.

It’s okay to have your own form of rest and relaxation, but when gambling causes you to lose big amounts of money, starts to take a serious toll on your everyday activities, and is already affecting family relationships, something needs to be changed. If you can’t stop gambling or have a loved one who has become a compulsive gambler, seek support right away. 

What Is Pathological Gambling?

Pathological gambling is also known as gambling addiction, gambling disorder, or compulsive gambling. Pathological gambling is when a person cannot take control of the urge to gamble even when there are negative consequences. A gambling addict continues to play even if they have serious financial problems, even when it’s already causing fights in their families, and even if it’s already starting to affect their mental health.

Gambling disorder or addiction comes in many forms:

  • Sports betting or horse race
  • Online casinos
  • Poker and other card games
  • Slot machines or roulettes
  • Lottery or scratch tickets
  • Investing in risky stocks or investments 

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

The causes of gambling addiction aren’t really understood well. It may start with the clean intention of having fun or pass time, but gambling addiction may result from environmental, genetic, or biological factors. What are the causes or risk factors that lead to gambling addiction?

1. Chemicals in the Brain

Gambling addiction may come as emotional and physical reactions similar to substance abuse. Once you pop, it’s hard to stop.

Gambling with the perception of gaining boatloads of money is a wrong mindset. Winning big even once triggers the release of chemicals in the brain called norepinephrine and dopamine. The release of these chemicals creates that rush of energy and pleasure and feelings of being invincible.

“I won big! I’m on fire! I can do it again!” This becomes the mindset of a gambler after winning big in a casino.

Studies show that individuals who have gambling addiction have below-average levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. That is why they keep on gambling because they seek that euphoric feeling when winning. Winning big amounts of money can create that elation and feelings of happiness. This high is addictive, so they want more. 

2. Family Influence

Another risk factor for gambling addiction is the influence of a family member. It’s like substance abuse: when a person has a family member with substance abuse, the risk of developing the disorder increases up to 60%.

When gambling becomes “normal” in a home, the gambling behavior is encouraged, and without the proper guidance, this can lead to gambling addiction. 

3. Environmental and Social Factors

Gambling addiction does not only start at home. It can be influenced by environmental and social factors as well.

Environmental and social factors like having friends who gamble, peer pressure to gain approval from others, or dating someone with gambling addiction can be risk factors for gambling addiction. For others, gambling addiction started with the purpose of coping with loneliness or finding a distraction to relieve stress. What was once a leisurely activity easily became addictive.

A good example of environmental and social factors that may lead to gambling addiction is hosting poker nights. Try to host poker nights at your home. There will be at least one friend who plays for the purpose of socializing, then wins big and becomes addicted. That person will start hosting their own poker nights because of this “positive” experience. 

4. Re-Occurring Mental Health Problems or Substance Use Disorders

The studies conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling state that people with gambling addiction are common in those who have re-occurring mental health problems or drug abuse problems. The finding makes sense. Individuals with anxiety, depressive disorders, and other mental health problems do tend to have poor coping mechanisms.

What does a person with a mental health decline and gambling problem do when stressed out? They probably go to the casino or log in to an online gambling site to keep their mind off things. 

Warning Signs of Compulsive Gambling

Like other forms of addiction, gambling addiction is not easily detectable. Those who are addicted to drugs will not readily admit they are hooked on drugs. Alcoholics can’t even realize that they are starting to have a drinking problem. There will always be a denial.

For loved ones who are concerned, all you can do is detect the red flags of gambling addiction. For gamblers who are worried about falling into the gambling addiction trap, pay attention to your behavior and the warning signs of compulsive gambling. Here’s what you should know if you’re a recreational gambler or have developed gambling problems:

  • You gave up your hobbies or interests just to go gambling.
  • You prefer to gamble rather than spend time with your family.
  • You apply for new credit cards or open new bank accounts with gambling as your purpose.
  • You spend big amounts of money in the casino. Your savings are affected. You don’t get to pay your bills or mortgage because you don’t have money anymore.
  • You’re acting defensive or secretive about your gambling activity.
  • You can’t concentrate at work or school or focus on your daily tasks because all you think about is your winnings or losses in gambling.
  • You can’t control how much money you spend when you gamble.
  • You’re starting to borrow money, steal, or be in deep debt because of your gambling activities.
  • You’re starting to feel guilty or ashamed of your gambling activities, but you cannot stop.
  • You started lying to your family or loved ones about your whereabouts because you were in the casino.
  • You’re spending too much time in front of the computer playing online casino.

If you’re experiencing or feeling the things mentioned above, get help immediately, as you already have a gambling addiction. If you have a family member with these warning signs, try to reach out and help them.

Do not wait for the situation to spiral down. The priority at this moment is to explore the feelings and mental health of what a gambler is going through. 

How to Stop Gambling

When gamblers decide to stop their gambling addiction, it must be made with a conscious effort. Here are some tips for gamblers to stop gambling:

  • Start with the decision that it’s time to stop gambling.
  • Stay away from the casino and gambling sessions and avoid tempting environments.
  • To those who play online casinos, avoid sitting in front of the computer or avoid accessing the internet.
  • Cancel your credit cards or close your online betting accounts.
  • Assign a family member to take control of your finances.
  • Explore new hobbies and past time to take your mind off gambling.

At first, stopping gambling comes easy, the recovery process will be the challenging part. In this case, you can benefit from the help of a therapist. Many people who are hooked to gambling with low impulse control may find themselves in a tricky situation. That’s where a therapist can help them. 

Gambling Addiction Therapy to Treat Compulsive Gambling

When you seek help from a mental health professional for gambling addiction, you are on the right path to recovery. The treatment options may be a combination of different types of gambling addiction therapy.

Gamblers will not be the only ones to benefit from therapy. Their family and loved ones will, too. Here are the therapies used by mental health professionals to help gamblers and their loved ones:

  • Individual therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Group therapy
  • Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous
  • Family therapy
  • Couples counseling

Advice to Individuals with Gambling Addiction

Do not let your gambling addiction to take control of your life. You should be the one to take control of your life.

Do not wait for your gambling problem to start messing up your relationships with your loved ones and ruin your finances. Like substance use or other forms of addiction, gambling addiction can be treated.

Everything starts within you. This is the time to take control of your life.

Where to Go for Gambling Addiction Therapy

Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) offers all the therapy and counseling mentioned above for gambling addicts and their family members. KCC offers telehealth counseling, where everything is done online, from scheduling an appointment to the actual therapy session.

The whole process was made easy, convenient, and affordable to extend help and treatment for Kentucky and even Ohio residents. Kentucky Counseling Center also offers depression counseling and anxiety counseling for individuals experiencing a mental health decline.

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