Gambling Addiction

Gambling comes in many different forms, from sports betting to flashy casino games. For most, gambling is an enjoyable activity that causes no serious harm. However, individuals who develop a gambling addiction may suffer from severe emotional and financial losses.

Gambling Addiction Defined

Individuals who are addicted to gambling have a compulsive need to gamble, even at great personal and financial cost. Compulsive gamblers find it difficult to focus on other aspects in their life, including personal relationships and employment. An individual who gambles casually and recognizes when it's time to quit does not have a gambling problem. An addict, however, will continue to gamble despite mounting financial losses. In fact, these losses may push the compulsive gambler to gamble even more frequently in an attempt to win back the money.

Causes of Gambling Addiction

Several factors in a compulsive gambler's life may have led to the addiction. Stress from a major life change, such as retirement or job loss, can lead individuals to look for a new outlet for their anxiety. In some cases, the gambler enjoys the rush of excitement that accompanies high-risk ventures. These gambling addicts may start out as casual gamblers. However, these individuals are often unable to recognize the risks of gambling and cannot walk away from the casino.

The Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction

Although the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction can vary, there are a few signs that are almost always present.

  • Preoccupation is a typical symptom of gambling addiction. The gambler constantly thinks about gambling and is often planning a future gambling trip. She may also relive past gambling experiences in her head.
  • A compulsive gambler may feel the need to habitually increase the size of his bets over time; small bets are no longer enough to whet the gambler's appetite.
  • If an addicted gambler tries to stop gambling, he may feel agitated and irritated.
  • Some gamblers attempt to hide their gambling from their family and peers. The gambler may begin to lie about how money she has lost and how much time she spends at the casino.

Help for Gambling Addicts

Unfortunately, there is no single cure that will help all compulsive gamblers. However, there are many ways individuals can seek help for their problems. Group meetings offer a productive setting for gamblers to discuss their issues with others suffering from the same problem. Gamblers Anonymous, modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, offers a 12-step program, group meetings and a sponsor program.

Mental health professionals can offer personalized help through cognitive-behavioral therapy. This technique equips gamblers with the skills they need to fight the urge to gamble. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help the gambler identify issues in his life that may contribute to his gambling problem.

Finally, compulsive gamblers can also seek out counselors who are trained specifically to deal with gambling addictions. The National Council on Problem Gambling, for example, offers specialized help to gamblers through professionally trained counselors.