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A problem gambler feels an overwhelming need to gamble online, visit casinos, and bet on sports. Addicts can’t control their behaviour and will continue on this self-destructive path, even if there are severe consequences for their personal lives. This article looks at four interesting facts about gambling addiction and recovery.
Mental health professionals and scientists have identified problem gambling as a behavioural addiction. Gambling addicts show similar changes in behaviour and brain activity as drug users and alcoholics. Defective brain functioning may play a central role in the self-destructive behaviour of problem gamblers.
The more the person gambles, the more their addiction will grow. Brain imaging studies and tests have revealed that gambling activates the gambler's brain's reward system and gives them a high, in the same way, drugs do for drug addicts.
It’s also been proven that you’re at greater risk of developing an addiction if any of your family members have substance addiction problems.
The prefrontal cortex controls impulsivity, cognitive control, and is involved in decision making. Studies have shown that this brain region is less active in gambling and drug addicts than people without these issues. Problem gamblers are often also impulsive, and it seems likely that they may struggle to control their impulses because of the reduced functioning of the prefrontal cortex.
The brains of addicts also process risk and reward incorrectly, as well as current versus long-term consequences.
Many addicts also struggle with mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which causes people to feel negative about themselves. Gambling is a coping mechanism for them as it helps them escape the daily realities, which increases their anxiety.
Treatment approaches are usually like those used for drug and alcohol addicts. Cognitive and behavioural treatment can help problem gamblers understand that they need to change their thinking about gambling. The therapy encourages them to reevaluate risky thinking, such as trying to predict the outcome of their next bet, based on previous ones' successes.
Behavioural treatment encourages people to change their behaviour and environment to make it more difficult for them to gamble, e.g. to limit their access to cash. Motivation also plays an essential role in overcoming a gambling problem. Motivational enhancement techniques enable people to understand how it affects their lives and how to manage their mixed feelings about stopping.
The number of female gambling addicts is increasing and in some age groups, now even outnumbers men. Treatment should take into account that women get addicted to gambling for different reasons than men.
Female gambling addicts have a higher rate of mood disorders and have often also suffered physical abuse.
The focus is often on treatment and quitting for gambling addicts. What if they can prevent developing a problem in the first place? In the hope of preventing the problem before it starts, gamblers should be encouraged to do the following:
Gambling can be a harmless form of entertainment, but it can also be used to cope with daily life stresses like alcohol or drugs. If you are concerned that gambling is harming your life, contact your local problem gambling helpline for advice.