When people think about addiction, drugs and alcohol are generally the first things that come to mind. However, for 6 to 10 million Americans, per DarvSmith.com, addiction falls into another realm — gambling. The compulsion drives the addict to keep betting and bidding despite the negative consequences they’ve suffered in the past. Compulsive gambling is considered to be a process addiction, wherein the gambler is addicted to the behavior of gambling.
A dangerous cocktail
When you mix compulsive behaviors with alcoholism or drug addiction, things can get very messy. Comorbid diagnoses like these are not uncommon. In fact, among 9,282 American adults surveyed, 45 percent have more than one disorder, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Both substance abuse and compulsive gambling bear the threat of making symptoms worse for one another. For instance, the compulsive gambler may spend a lot of time frequenting casinos or bars where they can place bets. In these environments, alcohol abuse becomes more likely.
A compulsive gambler who is also an alcoholic may drink to settle their nerves before a big game of blackjack. While their stack of chips are piling up, it doesn’t seem like anything could go wrong, until it does. When the house wins and the addict is out more than they put in, another round of drinks may help to ease the pain and anxiety. In this setting, booze can go from a friendly companion to a depressive intoxicant.
Furthermore, trying to cope with the side effects of one disorder often brings difficulties in coping with the other. Case in point, the compulsive gambler who is also addicted to drugs may lose their drug money in a high stakes game of Russian roulette. How then will they afford their fix? Or vice versa, the money owed to a bookie may not be paid back on time due to overspending on drugs — a fact of life for most addicts.
What is compulsive gambling addiction?
Sometimes recognized as compulsive gambling disorder, those who exhibit the following symptoms are likely addicted to gambling:
- Growing a tolerance and placing larger and riskier bets as time goes on
- An obsession with gambling
- Playing back past wins over and over in your mind
- Using gambling as a distraction from problems in your life or feelings of emotional discomfort
- Hiding your gambling
- Spending time away from loved ones to gamble instead
- Feeling down about yourself and guilty after gambling
- Failing at attempts to scale back or quit
Who is at risk?
Gambling is a potential problem for millions of people. After all, it is legal within certain limitations, and plenty of people are doing it without getting addicted to it. So, why can’t you? We are not all cut from the same cloth. Certain individuals are more at risk for compulsive gambling disorder than others.
Substance abusers are at an increased risk for gambling addiction. These individuals are already predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors. PsychCentral reports that one study on 298 cocaine abusers resulted in a five to seven times increased rate of compulsive gambling among cocaine addicts than the general population.
If you suffer from a mental illness, you’re more likely to develop compulsive gambling disorder than someone in the general population. Harvard Health Publications notes that persons living within 50 miles of a casino have almost two times the risk of being a compulsive gambler than someone living farther away. Individuals who don’t make much money or who are unemployed are more likely to engage in gambling. As with most addictions, individuals who like the thrill of taking risks and engaging in impulsive behaviors are more vulnerable to a gambling addiction, too.
Over the last 15 to 20 years, the vast majority of the American population has introduced an internet-capable computer to their home. In more recent years, smartphones, tablets and more have paved the way for easier access to one very tempting feature for the addict gambler — online gambling. Due to this, gambling habits are easier than ever to conceal from the world around you. The secretive nature of most gamblers stems from shame they feel because they know what they’re doing isn’t right, but they just can’t help themselves.
The need for treatmentThere are a few theories surrounding the gambling addict that continually come into play during treatment. A lot of problem gamblers have trouble accepting reality, and this is something that therapy can assist with. It can also help those who struggle with not wanting to grow up and take care of their responsibilities. Most of all, the vast majority of compulsive gamblers show signs of self-sabotage and a deep-rooted interest in punishing themselves. All of these issues can be overcome in treatment.
Whether you’re struggling to pay the bills or not, you may have a problem with gambling. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Compulsive disorders are no different than any other addiction, and they are just as real and legitimate. The best chance you have a recovering from your pathological gambling problem is to accept outside assistance.
Gamblers Anonymous is a resource for those struggling with gambling addiction. The organization follows a 12-step format similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The majority of compulsive gamblers who reach and maintain abstinence seem to have one thing in common — they avoid triggers, and they learn how to deal with them when they do encounter them. This means avoiding areas where gambling is easily accessed. For slot machine fans or avid horse track gamblers, this may be a bit easier. For others, like those who regularly bet on sporting events or buy lottery tickets, it might be trickier, but it can be done.
For those who are struggling with co-occurring substance abuse issues, you aren’t alone either. In 2009, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 23.5 million people were battling dependencies on drugs and alcohol. Individuals who drink or use drugs to escape problems in their lives, or even the shame, guilt, and loss that their gambling habits inflict, likely have a substance abuse problem. If you’re experiencing withdrawal in the absence of substance abuse, have developed a tolerance and need more of a substance than you used to in order to get the same result, or you find yourself preoccupied with using, you may be addicted.
If you’re open to it, we can help you. Call us to learn more about how treatment can help you heal.