Gambling involves placing bets on games of chance with the hope of winning and earning rewards–generally financial. Because the rewards occur on a random basis and cause pleasure when they do occur, the excitement of gambling can be addictive to some people.
What is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction is characterized by a compulsive need to gamble, even at the expense of other important life activities. People who are addicted to gambling may allow gambling to affect their relationships, their work and even their physical and psychological wellbeing.
A combination of psychological and physiological factors causes an addiction to gambling. While the underlying compulsion may be the same in both genders, men and women typically manifest their gambling addictions in different ways.
The Biology of Gambling Addiction
An addiction to gambling is thought to involve an overabundance of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. This idea is supported by the fact that medications that increase dopamine levels–such as those used to treat Parkinson’s disease–have been linked to gambling addictions.
Gender appears to play a role in gambling addiction as well. Though women tend to develop the problem later in life, they are more severely affected. Men tend to become addicted to interactive gambling games, such as poker and blackjack, whereas women tend to become addicted to solitary games, such as slots and bingo.
Gambling Addiction Risk Factors
Risk factors associated with gambling addiction include:
- A history of novelty-seeking behavior
- Low serotonin levels in the brain
- The presence of a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and mood problems
- The presence of other addictions, such as addictions to alcohol, cocaine or sex
Gambling Addiction Warning Signs
Only a trained professional can firmly diagnose an addiction to gambling, and only after a thorough psychological examination. However, certain warning signs may signal a potential gambling addiction, including:
- Dishonesty or lying about gambling
- Forgoing work or family commitments to gamble
- Needing to gamble with progressively larger amounts of money
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling
- Resorting to crime to finance gambling
- Severe financial troubles that result from gambling
- Total preoccupation with gambling
- Using credit or borrowed money to gamble.
Gambling Addiction Treatments
Gambling addicts can seek various forms of treatment, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: During cognitive-behavioral therapy for gambling addiction, an addict will work with a professional to “re-wire” the way his brain responds to unhealthy behaviors.
- Gamblers Anonymous: Gamblers Anonymous is a support group that offers a 12-step program to help treat gambling addiction and connects addicts with others.
- Treatment of underlying disorders: Drug treatment or psychotherapy can address certain conditions, such as schizophrenia, which predispose patients to a gambling addiction.
How to Seek Help
Contact these organizations for advice on treating a gambling addiction:
- Gamblers Anonymous: http://www.gamblersanonymous.org
- National Council on Problem Gambling Hotline: 1.800.522.4700
Gamblers Anonymous. (2010). Questions and answers. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/qna.html
HelpGuide Organization. (2010). Gambling addiction and problem gambling. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/gambling_addiction.htm
MedicineNet. (2010). Gambling addiction (Compulsive or pathological gambling). Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/gambling_addiction/article.htm
National Council on Problem Gambling. (2010). What is problem gambling? Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.ncpgambling.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1