Rehab 4 Addiction

Gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is one of a number of behavioural disorders to be recognised as addictions in recent years.

It shares many features in common with substance addictions. It can leave people broken, penniless and – in some cases – suicidal.

On this page, we go through some of the most important features of gambling addiction, including signs to look out for, treatments and advice for loved ones

What is gambling addiction?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, gambling disorder is ‘persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behaviour leading to clinically significant impairment or distress’. [1]

Someone is said to have a gambling addiction if they exhibit four or more of the following criteria:

  • They have to gamble with more money in order to get the same feeling as they did previously.
  • They feel angry and irritable when they try to give up gambling for any length of time.
  • The person has tried and failed to give up gambling in the past.
  • They often think about gambling, for example by replaying past wins and losses in their head, or thinking about when they will next get the chance to gamble.
  • The person uses gambling as a coping mechanism, doing so when they have negative feelings such as sadness or guilt.
  • The person gambles more in order to make up for past losses.
  • They are dishonest with loved ones in order to conceal the extent of their gambling addiction.
  • Their gambling addiction has caused problems with work or relationships.
  • The person has had to be bailed out by friends or loved ones due to gambling losses.

Other features of gambling addiction mentioned in the DSM-5 include:

  • Whether it is ‘episodic’ or ‘persistent’. Some people with gambling disorders gamble all the time (‘persistently’), whereas others have brief gambling ‘episodes’.
  • Whether it is ‘in remission’. If someone had all the criteria for a gambling addiction, but now show none of those criteria, they are said to be ‘in remission’.
  • A mild gambling disorder is when someone exhibits 4-5 of these criteria; 6-7 equates to a moderate gambling disorder, and 8-9 equates to a severe gambling disorder.

Gambling is known as an impulse-control disorder, which means that people who suffer from this disorder struggle to control their impulses.

It is linked with other disorders, such as bipolar disorder, stress, anxiety, depression and ADHD. Treating gambling disorder often involves treating other co-occurring disorders.

Common misconceptions about gambling addiction

There are a number of common misconceptions about gambling addiction.

They include:

1. You’re only a gambling addict if you gamble every day

This is false. As mentioned above, many gambling addicts go through periods when they are not gambling at all.

That does not make them any less addicted. Someone who suffers from an episodic gambling disorder may take months off gambling, and then go on a splurge where they gamble every day for a week.

2. You’re only a gambling addict if you lose more money than you can afford to lose.

Wrong. Well-off people can be gambling addicts; in fact, people with excess money and time may be more at risk of gambling addiction.

If you’re spending lots of time in a casino, or at a slot machine, that can have a negative impact on your mental health and your relationships with your loved ones

3. If your loved one has a lot of gambling debt, you should help them pay it off.

This is a tricky one. It can be very difficult to refuse a loved one if they ask you for money to help with a gambling debt. But giving a gambling addict money can make things worse.

What are the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction?

There are lots of things you can look out for if you suspect that someone may have a gambling addiction.

Here are some of the main ones:

  • Repeatedly losing money when gambling, and then gambling more in an effort to recoup that money ( ‘chasing one’s losses’).
  • Asking loved ones to borrow money, without giving any explanation.
  • Resorting to criminal activity in order to fund a gambling habit.
  • Being dishonest about what they did on a particular evening, or about financial things (unpaid bills, secret bank accounts etc.)
  • Having lots of cash, then none at all the following day.
  • Disappearing at night or during the day without an excuse.
  • Appearing preoccupied, due to worrying about gambling debts or thinking about gambling.
  • Gambling more and more than before in order to get the same feeling of excitement.
  • Spending a lot of time online.

Ways to deal with a gambling addiction

If you have a gambling addiction, the thought of quitting can be daunting. Once gambling takes over your life, it is difficult to imagine life without it.

But the good news is that there are a wealth of treatment options at your disposal. Many people have been through gambling addiction before you, and many have overcome it.

For a severe gambling addiction, we would recommend inpatient or outpatient gambling rehab and a course of therapy.

But for a mild to moderate gambling disorder, there are some effective techniques you can put into practice yourself.

  • Work on your relationships. As with many addictions, gambling often occurs when people feel lonely and isolated. The simple way to stop feeling lonely is to make sure you spend as much time as possible with friends, family and colleagues. Try to reach out to friends and family and ask if they want to spend some time together. Join some new clubs, or a sports team. It’s good to make friends in an arena which has nothing to do with gambling, since it reduces the risk of a relapse.
  • Make use of support groups. There is a branch of Alcoholics Anonymous which is specifically directed at gambling addiction, called Gamblers Anonymous. When you join up, you are assigned a sponsor, who will look out for you and provide guidance when you need it.
  • Find other ways to deal with difficult emotions. Gambling is often a response to emotions that the gambler does not want to process, such as stress, guilt or anxiety. One way to teach yourself to avoid gambling is to learn different ways to process negative emotions. For some, spending time with friends helps them to deal with unpleasant feelings; for others, practising yoga or meditation may be the best way. You have to find what works for you.
  • Get treatment for co-occurring mental or behavioural disorders. Gambling addiction often goes hand-in-hand with other disorders and addictions. Among the most common addictions for gamblers to suffer from is substance use disorder (SUD). Getting treatment for SUD can help gamblers by taking away one of the things which causes them to gamble. Similarly, stress, anxiety and depression can sometimes trigger gambling; by treating these disorders, you will not only feel happier, you will also help to reduce your gambling.

Avoiding gambling triggers

One of the challenges of dealing with a gambling addiction in the 21st century is that gambling is now so accessible.

Every computer, laptop and mobile device can be used for gambling. Since we need these forms of technology to navigate daily life, it can be hard to avoid gambling triggers.

However, there are still ways to get by without increasing your risk of relapse.

Firstly, you should make sure that you are always around people who you trust to call out any destructive behaviours, such as going on gambling sites or visiting gambling shops.

You should also consider letting a loved one take over your finances for the initial period of your recovery. This will help you to avoid temptation.

Finally, you should try to engage in more constructive hobbies, such as arts and crafts, sports and reading. This will help to channel some of the energy which previously led you to gamble.

It may help to think of gambling as something that arises from a set of conditions. If you can prevent these conditions from occurring, you should be able to significantly reduce your risk of a gambling relapse.

Those conditions are:

  • Making the decision to gamble. Gambling cannot happen unless you consciously will it to happen. Whenever you feel the need to gamble, tell yourself that you need to step back, consider what will happen if you gamble, try not to think about gambling, and do something different.
  • Having enough funds to gamble. If you don’t have control over your bank account, and only have a small amount of cash for spending purposes, then it will be much more difficult for you to gamble.
  • Having enough time to gamble. Boredom and an excess of leisure time can feed into addictions. Planning your day and scheduling in fun activities that don’t involve gambling are good ways to make sure that you don’t relapse.
  • Situations in which you can gamble. Without a situation in which you can gamble, the opportunities to gamble will be limited. Good ways to avoid these high-risk situations include: alerting gambling shops that you have an addiction and should not be served; deleting gambling apps on your phone and blocking all gambling sites on your laptop.

Things to do instead of gambling

People gamble for lots of different reasons, including boredom, a desire to relax, a desire for excitement, a need to pay off debts, and as a form of escapism.

But there are lots of other ways to deal with these feelings that are less destructive.

  • For example, instead of using gambling to relax, try meditating, doing yoga, or reading a book.
  • Rather than gambling to pay off debts, consult a debt counsellor. Debt counsellors are professionals with years of experience helping people deal with debt. They will help you to slowly pay off your debt through sustainable, risk-free means.
  • If boredom is a key reason for gambling, consider taking up a hobby, or getting back into something you used to enjoy. If you are worried that you may not stick to a hobby, and that you will end up gambling instead, try joining a club for people with similar hobbies.
  • For those who use gambling as a way of dealing with unpleasant feelings, such as guilt or anxiety, therapy may be especially helpful. Therapy arms you with a set of tools for tackling these feelings in a positive, constructive way.
  • If you gamble because you find it exciting, and you are a thrill-seeker, then why not try an exciting sport, such as kayaking, or surfing? Doing a sport which provides the same level of adrenaline, without the costs, could be exactly the alternative you need.

How to manage cravings

As with all addictions, gambling disorder can trigger powerful cravings when you stop gambling. In order to fend off these cravings, we recommend the following simple techniques.

  • Stay connected. When you are on your own, cravings can seem huge and unstoppable. When you are with a loved one, especially someone who knows about your addiction, cravings are a lot less scary. Alternatively, if you have a sponsor, or a friend, it’s a good idea to call them when you have a craving.
  • Wait. If you can just put off giving in to that craving for another five minutes, it may go away on its own. In the heat of the moment, cravings can seem overpowering, but (much like a wave), they do eventually subside.
  • Picture the results of a gambling spree. Sometimes simply imagining the aftermath of a gambling binge – huge debts, arguments with loved ones, a mountain of shame – can be enough to quell cravings.
  • Do something else. If you’re worried you may be about to give in to a craving, do something different, preferably with someone else. Whether it’s a hobby, or a sport, anything that takes your mind off gambling should do the trick.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness has shown a lot of promise as a method for dealing with cravings. Read more about it here.

If you do have a lapse, remember that lapses are incredibly common among people in recovery. The key is to make sure that your lapse doesn’t become a relapse.

One way to do this is to write yourself a little card, to be opened in the event of a lapse.

On the card, you can write some little bits of advice and encouragement. You can also write the phone numbers of some loved ones/your sponsor to remind you to call them.

This should provide a good barrier to stop your lapse from developing into a relapse.

What treatment is available for gambling addiction?

There are a range of treatments available for gambling addiction, from therapy, to gambling rehab, to counselling, to treatment for co-occurring conditions. You will need to decide what form of treatment best suits your circumstances.

CBT. One of the most popular therapies for gambling addiction (and indeed, for most addictions) is cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT.

CBT helps you to identify the thought patterns which lead to gambling.

It then teaches you techniques for reconfiguring those thought patterns, in order to prevent gambling from occurring and make you a happier person. [2]

Other forms of therapy. CBT is not the only form of therapy for gambling addiction. Another type of therapy that is very effective in treating gambling addiction is family therapy.

In family therapy, your family take part in the therapy session, in order to provide support. Family therapy also helps by educating the families of people struggling with addiction in how best to help their loved ones deal with this addiction.

Rehab. Rehab, which comes in inpatient and outpatient forms, is one of the best ways to deal with severe gambling addiction.

In gambling rehab, you will receive support and attention from experienced staff who will be able to help you overcome cravings. You will also get the latest in modern therapy.

Treatment for co-occurring conditions. Since gambling often goes together with other disorders, such as anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder, getting treatment for co-occurring disorders is a good way to (indirectly) treat your gambling addiction.

Advice for loved ones dealing with a partner or relation’s gambling addiction

As the loved one of a gambling addict, you are in a very difficult position. You may end up caught between the desire to help your loved one pay off their debts, and the desire to help them get better.

The key thing you should do is encourage your loved one to get treatment as soon as possible.

Other tips include:

  • If you have a joint bank account, make sure you take control over it. Leaving large amounts of money at the disposal of a gambling addict is not sensible. Even if your loved one has their own bank account, you could suggest taking control of that, too. This may be met with resistance, but it will significantly reduce the risk of your loved one gambling away their money.
  • Reach out for help. Being the loved one of a gambling addict can be immensely isolating. Those with gambling addictions can become very wrapped up in their own problems, and have little time for others. You can visit this page for help and support.
  • Put plans in place for what you will do if your loved one asks for money. It can be hard to say no to a loved one when they ask for money, but giving money to a gambling addict is not good for you or them. So it might be a valuable exercise to practise some responses for when this occurs. That way you will find it easier to say no.

Final thoughts

If you or a loved one are suffering from a gambling addiction, we wish you all the best with overcoming it. We hope you have found some useful advice here.