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Gambling Addiction

Americans spend more entertainment dollars on gambling than on spectator sports, theme parks, video games, music and movie tickets combined. This is partly attributable to the increasing accessibility and societal acceptance of gambling, which ranges from off-track betting and casinos to state lotteries and internet gambling.

The line dividing casual gambling from compulsive or pathological gambling, a progressive impulse control disorder and a repetitive maladaptive behavior, is crossed when the following behavioral manifestations are present.

Attributes of Compulsive and Pathological Gambling

  1. Constant preoccupation with gambling
  2. inability to stop gambling despite serious and mounting harmful consequences on family, career, job, education and finances
  3. Use of gambling to medicate depression or to escape problems
  4. A need to gamble with higher sums of money in order to experience a ‘high’
  5. Restlessness and irritability upon attempting to curb or cease gambling
  6. Return to gambling immediately after a loss, in an obsessive attempt to get even

Destructive Nature of Gambling Addiction

Compulsive gambling, which is regarded as a major addiction, shares characteristics associated with cocaine dependency, namely the short-lived euphoria and pronounced depression, dyphoria and vexation of repeated losses. Problem or addictive gambling can negatively affect families and marriages, brings about financial ruin and leads to deterioration of the vocational, social, physical and psychological aspects of the individual’s life. The suicide rate among compulsive gamblers, which comprise 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population, is significantly higher than substance abuse counterparts.

Gambling Addiction Treatment

While chronic in nature, gambling addiction recovery is possible, provided that game-dependent individuals seek professional treatment. An array of gambling addiction treatment options is at the public’s disposal, and they vary according to individual needs. An interdisciplinary approach is generally employed in the treatment of compulsive gambling. Treatment typically commences with crisis stabilization of the client and involves one or a number of the following methods.


The psychotherapeutic technique, known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), has proven extremely effective in treating gambling addiction. The objective of CBT is to identify the patient’s unfounded, illogical, destructive and self-defeating thoughts and substitute positive, healthy ones.

This form of intensive therapy assists clients in finding the cues that provoke the impulse to gamble, thus enabling them to avoid these cues. Patients learn to analyze their compulsive behavior and the triggers of their addictive gambling.


Psychiatrists may assist addicts in relieving their gambling compulsions by prescribing anti-depressants. Two kinds of medications that are typically administered for treating this brain disease are mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. Other medications known as narcotic antagonists, which have proven beneficial in treating chemical dependency, are also prescribed for compulsive gambling.


Certified gambling counselors offer intensive, individual therapy and family counseling. They design customized evaluation and treatment plans that correspond to each patient’s needs.

Another service provided by counselors is budget training. Financial counselors assess the problem gambler’s debt and assist him or her in resolving monetary problems through restitution, budgeting and debt management.

Group Therapy

This is the leading method for addiction treatment. For problem gamblers, group therapy provides the means to obtain support, feedback and advice from other individuals who find themselves in the same or similar predicament.

Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs

Whether compulsive gambling is treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis depends on the gravity of the situation and other criteria. For pathological gamblers whose addiction has not advanced beyond a certain level, outpatient rehabilitation is the optimal choice.

Qualifying candidates are typically those who have a record of medical stability, reside with a family, are employed and are able to refrain from gambling for at least two weeks in a row. Problem gamblers who have not been consecutively abstinent in the last three months are usually referred to inpatient treatment centers, which takes place in a hospital setting.

Step-based Programs

Another beneficial component of treatment is Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a 12-step program that is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and that provides self-help peer support on gambling issues. GA’s main objective is to stop gambling and assist other addicts in battling and recovering from a gambling addiction.

Peer Support Groups

An increasingly popular treatment method involves joining peer support groups, which are prevalent online and protect anonymity.

Complementary Healing Methods

Conventional gambling addiction treatments are often coupled with techniques such as personal fitness training, deep massage and hypnosis.

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