How to Overcome a Gambling Addiction
Whether it is betting on the lottery, horse racing or playing the pokies, gambling has become a big part of modern life. For some people, however, it can cause serious problems and even lead to debt or bankruptcy. In the past, psychiatric professionals generally regarded pathological gambling as a type of impulse control disorder, along with other compulsive behaviours such as kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting things on fire). But in a move that many regard as a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association recently moved pathological gambling to the addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.
This move was prompted by the fact that a growing body of research suggests that problem gambling is very much an addiction, albeit an uncommon one. In addition, there is increasing evidence that gambling can contribute to other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders, as well as physical illnesses such as cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal symptoms. It can also cause financial problems such as debt and bankruptcy and social problems including family discord, domestic violence and neglect of children.
In the US alone, a recent study found that around two million adults have a gambling problem and that for some, their addiction to gambling causes them significant harm. This is more than a few lost dollars; it is a compulsion that affects all aspects of their lives.
Many of the same techniques that are used to treat addictions such as drugs or alcohol are used to help people overcome gambling problems. These often include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps people change their beliefs about betting. For example, a person with a gambling addiction may believe they are more likely to win than lose, that certain rituals can bring them luck or that they can win back their losses by gambling more. CBT will help them to understand how these beliefs are irrational and unhelpful, and learn healthier ways to think about betting.
In addition, it is important to seek support if you are struggling with a gambling addiction. This can be done by talking to someone you trust who won’t judge you. This could be a friend, family member or professional counsellor. It is also helpful to avoid places where you can gamble and to try to find other ways of socialising, such as joining a book club or sports team, or taking up a new hobby. It is also a good idea to reduce your financial risk by not using credit cards and limiting the amount of money you carry in your wallet or purse. Also, it is helpful to consider seeking debt advice, for example from StepChange, a free and confidential service.