Gambling Addiction Treatment

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, over 85 percent of adults in the United States have gambled at least once in their lives. Some bet on sporting events, such as college basketball. Others head to casinos to play cards or electronic games. And still others play online games. While many people can gamble from time to time without developing an addiction to the activity, there are some people who develop a severe and serious gambling compulsion. They engage in the activity relentlessly, and without joy. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one percent of adults in the United States fit into this category. (More Gambling Addiction Statistics)

Addiction is commonly defined in terms of substances. Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol, and drug addicts are addicted to drugs. By these strict terms, it might be easy to disqualify gambling as a subject of addiction. After all, the addict isn’t truly abusing a substance in the strictest sense. When a person gambles and wins, however, the brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine. This is the same chemical drug addicts form an addiction to. Over time, gambling addicts find they need the increased level of dopamine in order to feel normal and happy, and they may feel less dopamine after each gambling episode. In other words, they are addicted to a chemical and their addiction follows the same pathways a drug addiction follows.

Gambling addictions can take a serious toll on the addict’s finances as well as his or her relationships. Thankfully, treatment options do exist, and recovery is possible. The most effective forms of treatment often combine talk therapy with medications and support groups.

Defining the Issue

As mentioned, not everyone who gambles has a gambling addiction. According to an article published by the University of Colorado, the frequency of gambling isn’t the only sign of addiction to watch for. People who gamble every day might not necessarily be addicted to gambling, while people who gamble once or twice per week may be addicted. While symptoms can vary from person to person, those with a true gambling addiction often share these symptoms:

Signs of Addiction

  • A preoccupation with gambling, and a need to bet more and more money
  • Spending significant amounts of time trying to recover losses
  • Lack of control over gambling
  • A feeling of restlessness or anxiety when not gambling

People with a gambling addiction may also feel a disruption in their lives due to gambling. People who lose their jobs, their friends or their physical health due to their relentless pursuit of gambling may have a real and identifiable problem that treatment could solve.

Treatment Locations

People struggling with gambling addiction have several forms of treatment available. In some cases, addicts can work closely with a therapist in weekly meetings and continue to live at home and go to work like normal. In other cases, the addict may find that living at home in the same location where the gambling took place is simply too stressful. Each time the addict walks by the computer, he or she may be tempted to gamble. When the addict passes by bars full of machines, the temptation to pop in for a simple game may grow stronger and stronger. For these people, treatment in an inpatient facility might be the best option. Here, they are removed from their everyday temptations and they’re allowed to take time to focus only on their addiction. People who are addicted to other substances such as drugs or alcohol might find inpatient programs to be especially helpful, as they might obtain help for both conditions at the same time.

Some insurance programs will pay for inpatient programs, but other insurance plans will not. In fact, some insurance plans won’t pay for any form of gambling addiction treatment. While these financial considerations are certainly important to consider, they shouldn’t keep an addict from getting needed therapies.

We can help you locate a treatment facility that works for your situation so you can get the care you need. If you’re concerned about the cost of therapies, call us today and let us outline potential options for you.

Gambling Addiction TherapyThe Role of Counseling

Whether the addict seeks help in an inpatient or an outpatient setting, counseling forms a cornerstone of addiction therapies for gambling. Often, the addict meets in private, confidential sessions with a counselor. Here, the counselor might ask the addict to define why he or she gambles and the addict might be asked to think about whether the urge grows stronger during times of stress or anger. Once the addict has determined why the gambling occurs and when he or she is vulnerable to addiction relapse, the addict can begin to plan. What can the addict say when he or she is asked to gamble? What can the addict do to reduce the cravings? Which places should the addict avoid to stave off temptation?

Addicts might also enjoy speaking with other addicts. In group sessions held by a counselor, gambling addicts can walk through temptations as a group and brainstorm solutions. They may also form relationships with one another and lean upon one another for support. When the addict no longer feels isolated, the addiction might grow weaker.

People with heavy debts due to gambling may also benefit from financial counseling. Here, they can develop strategies that can help them reduce their debt and pay back their creditors. This form of counseling might help the addict reduce his or her guilt, as he or she develops a plan to get the household finances under control and the risk of a foreclosure or a bankruptcy ruling becomes less likely.

Medication Management

Since gambling addiction causes chemical changes in the brain, medications might provide relief and help the addict conquer cravings. According to an article published in Science Daily, placing gambling addicts on a medication known as Naltrexone for a period of two years kept 80 percent of patients free of gambling for four years. This is a remarkable recovery rate, to be sure. Other doctors may lean on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications to help ease symptoms in their patients. Since the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medication for use in treating gambling addiction, doctors can vary quite widely when it comes to medication therapies.

Support Groups

People struggling with gambling addiction may feel symptoms for months or even years after they complete medication therapies and counseling sessions. For some, support groups can provide a significant amount of assistance. Gamblers Anonymous is the most widely recognizable support group for people with gambling addiction. There are hundreds of these meetings, if not thousands, held all across the country each week. The meetings are free and open to the public, and often, addicts aren’t required to sign up or register in order to participate.

People who participate in Gamblers Anonymous are asked to complete 12 steps. According to an article on the Gamblers Anonymous website, these steps are rooted in scientific principles, and they are considered effective. According to the 12-step program, the addict must:

12 Steps

  1. Admit that the addiction has become unmanageable.
  2. Believe that a higher power can help resolve the addiction.
  3. Decide to appeal to the higher power for help.
  4. Admit to self and others that addiction is a problem.
  5. Make a moral inventory of the self, looking for defects.
  6. Prepare to remove these defects.
  7. Ask the higher power for help.
  8. Make a list of others the addiction has harmed.
  9. Make amends to these people.
  10. Continue to be on the alert for flaws in the self.
  11. Seek out the higher power.
  12. Look for ways to help other addicts.

The Journal of Gambling Studies examined a treatment program based on these 12 steps and found that the program was remarkably effective. Six months after therapy was complete, 48 percent were significantly improved. While the program might not work for everyone, it’s clear than many find the 12 steps to be very helpful.

Getting Help

There are no magic words that families can use to help the gambler stop gambling and get help. Since the disease causes fundamental brain changes, it might not be possible for the addict to recognize the problem and do the needed work to get well. That doesn’t mean, however, that family members and friends must step aside and let the disease run its course. Allowing the addict to “reach bottom” by gambling could leave the family in financial ruin. Instead, it’s best for families to look for ways to intercede and provide real help to the addicts in their lives.

Family members can begin by learning all they can about gambling addiction. Attending Gam-Anon meetings in the community, for example, might be incredibly helpful. Here, family members meet with other families of gambling addicts and they learn how to best deal with the addiction in a helpful, supportive way. Family members who don’t feel comfortable with group meetings can also attend meetings with their own addiction counselors, learning about addiction in a private and secure location away from other people. By getting educated on gambling addiction, family members can learn how to protect themselves and how to provide needed help to assist the addict to leave gambling behind for good.