Gambling Addiction is a type of impulse control disorder whereby an individual engages in gambling behaviours despite the harm it brings such as debt or loss of interpersonal relationships. Being addicted to gambling is damaging not just due to the financial consequences it brings, but also because of the toll it takes on one's mental health which may include feelings of hopelessness or suicidal ideations.
Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction
- Increasing the stakes of gambling to heighten excitement
- Feeling restless or irritable when attempting to stop gambling
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop
- Gambling when feeling distressed or bored
- Continuing behaviour despite losing significant amount of money or assets
- Lying to conceal gambling acts
- Problems with interpersonal relationships due to gambling
- Depending on others for money to gamble
*To be diagnosed with a gambling addiction, one should have exhibited four or more of these behaviours within the past 12 months.
Triggers and Risk Factors
- Genetics: Certain genes can increase one's vulnerability to addictive behaviours
- Childhood Social/Cultural Factors: Watching adults use gambling as a coping mechanism can lead to learned behaviour. In such cases, an individual sees others use gambling as a method to relieve stress or negative emotions, and might hence learn to do the same
- Retirement/Job Stress
- Other Addictive Behaviours (Substance, Sex, etc.)
Theory Behind Gambling Addiction
When an individual consistently thinks about gambling, neuronal connections and chemicals in the brain are likely to increase the temptation to gamble. Furthermore, whenever one experiences a win or gets close to winning, a “feel good” neurotransmitter may be released. This neurotransmitter and the subsequent positive feeling becomes associated with gambling, and the individual thus learns that gambling is a way to obtain pleasure.
In addictive disorders, people have a tendency to build tolerance towards the additive. This tolerance means that one has to increase the intensity of the additive to obtain the same amount of pleasure they previously experienced. For instance, in the case of gambling, one would have to bet higher stakes, or gamble a lot more, to obtain the same pleasure they did at the start.
Additionally, based on the concept of schedules of reinforcement, gambling leads to inconsistent wins, or rewards. An individual never knows how many times they need to gamble before they next achieve a win. The possibility that the next round may be the one that results in a win increases one's anticipation and hence their gambling behaviour. A handful of people may also be highly motivated to gamble to recoup our losses. Some individuals are also more vulnerable to addictions due to impulsive or risk-taking personalities, or low self-control and poor delay discounting (having less ability to resist immediate lower rewards (pleasure from gambling) for future large rewards (benefits of stopping the addiction).
Getting Help for Addictions
✽ Psychotherapy: Behavioural Therapy (BT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
A therapist can help introduce healthy coping behaviours to help one deal with stress and temptations. Therapy can also change one's beliefs about gambling, for instance, correcting common misconceptions that a near-miss implies that one is learning how to play the game, or that there is a higher chance of winning after a loss (known as the near-miss outcome and the gambler's fallacy respectively).
✽ Medication: Anti-Depressants or Narcotic Antagonists have been used to help with symptoms of gambling addiction.
✽ Gambling Support Groups: In support groups, individuals who experience the same issues can share their problems and struggles with each other. This provides participants with a supportive social network, and one can learn of effective methods that have worked for other parties. Being in a support group can also provide members with the motivation to stop addiction together with their other counterparts.