Gambling Addiction

Gambling Addiction is a type of impulse control disorder where we indulge in gambling behaviours despite the harm it brings to us 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 the toll on our mental health which may include feeling suicidal or hopeless.


Signs and symptoms of Gambling Addiction

  • Higher stakes to heighten excitement
  • Restless or irritable when attempting to stop addiction 
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop
  • Gambling when feeling distressed or bored
  • Continuing behaviour despite losing significant amount of money
  • Lying to conceal acts
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships due to gambling
  • Depending on others for money to gamble

*To be diagnosed with Gambling Addiction, we should exhibit at least four behaviours within  12 months


Triggers and risk factors

  • Genetics (vulnerability to addictive behaviours) 
  • Childhood development (learned behaviour- using gambling as a coping mechanism) 
    • Trauma 
    • Abuse
    • Neglect  
  • Retirement/ job stress 
  • Loneliness
  • Other addictive behaviours (substance, sex, etc.) 


Theory behind addiction

The medical explanation of addiction mentions that neuronal connections are likely to increase the temptation to gamble when we are stuck in the thought of gambling. Furthermore, the initial win or getting close to winning, dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter may be released and associated with gambling, hence gambling would be the only way to obtain pleasure. Usually with addictive disorders, we build tolerance towards the additive and increase the intensity to achieve the same amount of pleasure. So in the case of gambling, to bet higher stakes. Based on the concept of schedules of reinforcement, gambling brings about inconsistent rewards (wins), which is more likely to increase behaviour (gambling), because of the anticipation of obtaining rewards (winning) in the next round. A handful of us may also be highly motivated to gamble to recoup our losses. Some of us are also more vulnerable to addictions due to our impulsive or risk-taking personalities, or having low self-control and delay discounting (lower ability to resist temptations for lower rewards (pleasure from gambling) instead of a higher reward in the future(stopping the addiction).


Getting help for addictions 

  • Psychotherapy: Behavioural Therapy (BT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
    • Introducing healthy coping behaviours towards stress or temptations 
    • Changing beliefs of gambling (e.g. near-miss outcomes, gambler’s fallacy (higher chance of winning after a loss)) 
  • Medication: Anti-depressants or Narcotic Antagonists
    • To provide rewards inplace of gambling 
  • Gambling support groups 
    • Talking about problems or struggles to quit addiction
    • Sharing of effective methods to cope 
    • Motivation to stop addiction together 


Watch Joey’s story on his gambling addiction.

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