Compulsive gambling is a highly treatable condition. With proper treatment and support, recovery is possible.

Gambling addiction is a growing problem as games of chance become increasingly more accessible in society. While forms of gambling are legal in most states, internet gambling has made it easier to access than ever before. For people who feel as if they can’t stop gambling, gambling addiction help is available. While gambling addiction treatment may be challenging, it has been shown to be very effective. Gambling treatment may consist of therapy, medications or self-help groups.

Therapy for Compulsive Gambling

Gambling addiction therapy is highly effective. However, for gambling therapy to be successful, a person needs to acknowledge their compulsive gambling as a problem. While this is not necessary to begin gambling counseling, early sessions will likely be focused on accepting the problematic behaviors associated with gambling.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for gambling addiction focuses on the interrelationship between thoughts, feelings and actions. A person’s faulty beliefs about gambling are challenged and replaced with new, accurate beliefs. In CBT for gambling, a person can change their feelings about gambling and ultimately change their gambling behaviors. For people who gamble compulsively, CBT can aid them in learning the skills necessary to reduce the urge to gamble.

Medication for Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction frequently co-occurs with other disorders. Sometimes this is called dual diagnosis. Most commonly, gambling addiction and mood disorders such as depression occur together. While not a medication to stop gambling, antidepressants may be used for people with a gambling addiction who also struggle with depression.

By treating the underlying depression, the urge to gamble compulsively may be reduced. This is especially true in cases where a person uses gambling to escape their feelings of depression. Another medication for a gambling addiction that has shown some success is narcotic antagonists such as naltrexone. When used for substance use disorders, this medication reduces the craving to use drugs. This has been helpful in some cases for also reducing the craving to gamble.

Dealing With Gambling Urges

There are several approaches that can help a person learn how to control gambling urges. First and foremost, identifying what causes urges can be helpful. These triggering situations can then be avoided or approached in a different way. Finding support to encourage abstinence from gambling can help a person cope with gambling urges as they occur. Learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can also help calm the mind as gambling urges pass.

Support Groups for Gambling

Gambling support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, provide individuals the opportunity for gambling self-help. Gamblers Anonymous meetings are conducted like other 12-step fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Finding Alternatives to Gambling

Identifying alternatives to gambling is an important part of relapse prevention. Identifying activities or distraction techniques when gambling urges occur and finding new leisure activities are important for recovery. Building a life that is no longer compatible with gambling by identifying these replacement behaviors and coping strategies will increase the likelihood of sustained recovery.

Gambling Addiction Hotlines

Even if a person is regularly attending gambling support groups, crisis support may at times be needed. In these cases, a gambling addiction hotline may be helpful. The National Council on Problem Gambling operates a free, 24-hour gambling helpline available to provide support and link to treatment. A gambling helpline may also be useful for a person helping someone with a gambling problem. Calling a gambling hotline can help gather additional information on how to help a loved one.

How to Help Someone With a Gambling Problem

Seeing a loved one struggle with something they have lost control of, such as gambling, can be difficult. While it may be normal to feel helpless in this situation, it is possible to effectively help someone with a gambling problem. Learning how to help someone with a gambling problem is important prior to acting. When helping someone with a gambling problem it is important to remain nonjudgmental and provide reassurance. It may be helpful to assist in locating treatment or support groups.

Treating Gambling Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Gambling addiction frequently co-occurs with other disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring mental health disorders include substance abuse, general anxiety, and depression. Gambling and substance abuse may co-occur for many reasons. Whether it be the fact that many businesses that provide gambling services also sell alcohol, or the fact that gambling seems to affect the brain in the same way as substance abuse, the connection is clear as these two types of addictions frequently occur together. In order to successfully treat them, both should be addressed simultaneously, and a relapse prevention and recovery plan needs to be inclusive of alcohol and other drugs as well as gambling.

Gambling addiction sometimes develops as a means of escape from other problems. For example, a person with a mental health condition may experience distraction and positive emotions when gambling. The perceived rewards of distraction and temporary symptom relief are likely to create a pattern of compulsive gambling. For a person struggling with gambling and depression, both concerns need to be addressed in treatment.

Often when underlying depression is treated, the compulsion to gamble fades. If depression is not treated along with gambling addiction, compulsive gambling behaviors are likely to return. In some cases, depression may develop as a result of compulsive gambling. This typically occurs when a person has begun to experience negative consequences of their gambling.

Anxiety and gambling may occur together, too. Many people with a gambling addiction begin to experience anxiety once their gambling becomes uncontrollable. Anxiety may occur both due to urges to gamble and concerns about repercussions from gambling. As with other co-occurring disorders, both compulsive gambling and anxiety need to be addressed in treatment.

Whether you or a loved one is struggling with gambling addiction, help is available. Treatment for gambling addiction is highly successful. Don’t wait another day to get help. If you or someone you know struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction (with or without a gambling addiction, call The Recovery Village today at  855.870.4187 to learn about addiction treatment options.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Denise-Marie Griswold
Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
Sources “Gambling Addiction Guide 2019 – Problem Gambling Resources”. (n.d.) Accessed January 14, 2019

Jabr, Ferris. “How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling.” Scientific American, November 2013.  Accessed January 14, 2019.

North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help. “Statistics Of Gambling Addiction 2016.” (n.d.) Accessed January 14, 2019 “Some Quick Facts About Gambling/Gamblers.” (n.d.) Accessed January 14, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.