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Gambling Addiction

Gambling Addiction

Gambling Addiction

If you have a problem with gambling, your gambling behavior causes disruptions in your life. Legalized gambling is a growing industry and in the U.S. it is estimated that the number of pathological gamblers in the U.S. is in excess of 2 million people with another 4-8 million being classified as problem gamblers.

Understanding Gambling Addiction

Legalized gambling is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Billboards on major highways depict the action and excitement available at gambling facilities. For most of the industry's patrons, gambling is fun and a form of harmless entertainment. However, for the 4% to 6% of gamblers who become problem or pathological (compulsive) gamblers, it can be a devastating illness that negatively affects every aspect of their lives.

Gambling can be defined as playing a game of chance for stakes. Gambling occurs in many forms, most commonly (horse and dog tracks, off-track-betting parlors, lotteries, casinos, slot machines, bookmaking, card rooms, bingo parlors and the stock market.

Problem gambling is gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational.  Problem gambling is an urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or despite a desire to stop. The term 'problem gambling' is preferred to 'compulsive gambling' among many professionals, as few people described by the term experience true compulsions in the clinical sense of the word. Problem gambling often is defined by whether harm is experienced by the gambler or others, rather than by the gambler's behavior.

Compulsive gamblers often have other addictions simultaneously, such as drug abuse and alcohol abuse, compulsive shopping and bulimia and other eating problems. The addictive gambler may be harder to treat than someone with only one addiction, because he or she may “switch addictions” and therefore leave the addictive personality traits untreated.

Typically, the characteristics of an addictive gambler are as follows:

* preoccupation with thoughts about gambling.
* Increasing the amount gambled.
* failure to stop the gambling behavior.
* uses gambling to escape from guilt, depression, helplessness, anxiety.
* gambles to the degree that credit cards,etc. are overextended.
* uses denial and lies to cover for the magnitude of the gambling addiction.
* may engage in illegal behavior to finance gambling.
* may become co-dependent and rely on others for money and emotional needs.

A gambling addiction is not an addiction to money. Most people gamble to escape from stress, a painful past, or to seek arousal. While the specific causes of pathological gambling are not known, there are several common reasons that appear to explain why people become addicted to gambling.  These reasons typically include one or more of the following:

  1. to avoid uncomfortable or painful emotions, including sadness, depression, guilt, anxiety, shame, anger, humiliation, and fear of failure
  2. to recover losses previously incurred through the gambling behavior
  3. as a form of stimulation
  4. to act on the illusion that gambling can provide a steady income and money that will solve the gambler's problems.
  5. as a tool of self-destruction to deal with feelings of guilt about success.

If you have a gambling problem, you are probably acutely aware of the problem.  But, if you are a master at self-deception and need some confirmation, one way to help you decide is to ask yourself the following questions (provided by the self-help organization Gamblers Anonymous):

Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

According to Gamblers Anonymous, if you answer ‘yes’ to seven of more of these questions, you most likely have a compulsive gambling problem.

Pathological Gambling's Similarity to Chemical Dependency

Similarities between pathological gambling and chemical dependency include an inability to stop/control the addiction, denial, severe depression, and mood swings. Pathological gambling and chemical dependency are both progressive diseases with similar phases. Both pathological gamblers and persons addicted to alcohol or drugs are preoccupied with their addiction, experience low self-esteem, use rituals, and seek immediate gratification.

Unlike chemical addiction, pathological gambling is a hidden disease ­ gamblers do not stumble, have needles in their arm, or smell of cards and dice. Pathological gamblers cannot overdose in the conventional sense, but they experience tremendous financial problems that require immediate attention.

More resources are available to chemical dependency than gambling addiction, in part because most people do not perceive gambling as potentially addicting. It is very important that pathological gamblers receive crisis stabilization at the beginning of their treatment, because pathological gamblers have a much higher suicide rate than persons addicted to alcohol or drugs.


A gambling addiction can destroy your life not just financially, but personally, socially, and vocationally.  If you suffer from a gambling addiction you will need professional help to overcome your problem and to develop healthy behavior patterns.

I have found that addictive gamblers often have other addictions and, accordingly, it may be more complicated to treat a person with a gambling addiction than someone with only one addiction since the gambling addict may “switch addictions” rather than face and overcome the underlying problem(s).

A gambling addiction is usually a progressive problem. In most people, it begins slowly and grows until the victim's life becomes unmanageable. As repeated efforts to gain control over the addiction fail, life for the compulsive gambler begins to fall apart.  While most addictive gamblers can stop gambling, at least for a while, most regress to their destructive behavior unless they seek professional help.

Treatment and counseling options available for compulsive gamblers typically include traditional psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones. Group therapy can be very helpful by allowing the gambling addict to give and receive advice, feedback and support from other people on how to deal with a gambling addiction. Self-help programs such as Gamblers Anonymous provide peer support.

Additional Information

The more you understand about a gambling addiction and other addictions, the better you can cope with them and with related problems. For more information about a gambling addiction and other addictions, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery
 National Council on Problem Gambling

 SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator

 FAQ's compulsive gambling and Gamblers Anonymous

Gambling Addiction Classification

A gambling addiction is classified slightly different depending on how the symptoms are diagnosed.

The Centers for Disease Control labeled gambling addiction as an impulse control disorder. Recently, some researchers have classified gambling addiction as a neurobiological disorder with a chemical dependency of the brain similar to those addicted to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. According to these scientists, gambling is a drug because its psychoactive effects are similar to tangible drugs.

Compulsive gambling can be categorized into two types: action gambling and escape gambling.

Action Gamblers:  In action gambling, the gambler is addicted to the thrill of risk-taking as his or her “substance of choice,” much in the same way that a cocaine addict is hooked on cocaine. The action itself becomes the drug. Action gamblers typically engage in games with other players, since part of the adrenaline rush is in the appearance or identity as a “winner.” These are predominantly males who started gambling early in teen years, and are generally bright, testing high on IQ tests. Their outlets are games requiring skill, including pari-mutuel, black jack, poker, sports betting, and recently, trading of stocks, commodities, futures, options, and bonds. Gambling conveys a sense of euphoria, similar to a drug induced high. Generally, very ego driven, controlling, risk taking, narcissistic, sociable, and, like the narcissist, in need of approval, affirmation, and confirmation.

These individuals generally possess low self-esteem, and have a tendency to bend the truth or lie. The gamblers of this problem category proceed generally through four phases: Winning - Losing -Desperation - Hopelessness. Generally, the behavior persists between 10 and 30 years before circumstances have reached a sufficient low for help to be sought. By that time the addiction has assumed far greater importance than family, friends, jobs, outside interests, and the individual is in serious jeopardy of losing absolutely everything.

Escape Gamblers:  Escape gambling occurs when the gambler seeks to blot out some discomforting feelings or emotional life crisis. The action of gambling is secondary to the numbing effect of the activity. Escape gamblers prefer more singular outlets such as slot machines, where they can avoid human contact. These are predominantly female with problems initiated later in life, normally when they are 30 or older. Gambling generally involves games requiring little or no skill like slots, bingo, lottery, etc. Escape gamblers appear numb, or in hypnotic trance when engaged in gambling. These types of gambler feel free of emotional and physical pain when gambling. These gamblers have been responsible and moral in their early lives, but they avoid conflict and often suffered verbal and physical abuse. They have a need for empowerment and gain it in their escape gambling. These individuals possess low self-esteem, and become manipulative as the problem develops.

Another classification approach, identified by Robert L. Custer, M.D. (adapted from encognitive), lists 6 types of gamblers: 1.Escape gamblers; 2.Compulsive gamblers; 3. Professional gamblers; 4. Anti-social or personality gamblers; 5. Casual social gamblers; and 6. Serious social gamblers. 

1. Escape gamblers prefer games that are perceived to have no elements of skill; these games include video poker, lottery, bingo, and slot machines. These games provide the relief from feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, boredom or loneliness. They use gambling to escape from crisis or difficulties. Gambling provides an analgesic effect rather than a euphoric response.

2. Compulsive gamblers have lost control over their gambling. For them, gambling is the most important thing in their lives. Compulsive gambling is a progressive addiction that harms every aspect of the gambler's life. As they continue to gamble, their families, friends and employers are negatively affected. In addition, compulsive gamblers may engage in activities ­ such as stealing, lying or embezzling ­ which go against their moral standards. Compulsive gamblers cannot stop gambling, no matter how much they want to or how hard they try.

3. Professional gamblers make their living by gambling and thus consider it a profession. They are skilled in the games they choose to play and are able to control both the amount of money and time spent gambling. Thus, professional gamblers are not addicted to gambling. They patiently wait for the best bet and then try to win as much as they can.

4. Antisocial or personality gamblers use gambling as a way to get money by illegal means. They are likely to be involved in fixing horse or dog races, or playing with loaded dice or marked cards. They may attempt to use a compulsive gambling diagnosis as a legal defense.

5. Casual social gamblers gamble for recreation, sociability and entertainment. For them, gambling may be a distraction or a form of relaxation. Gambling does not interfere with family, social or vocational obligations. Examples of such betting are the occasional poker game, Super Bowl bets, a yearly trip to Las Vegas and casual involvement in the lottery.

6. Serious social gamblers invest more of their time in gambling. Gambling is a major source of relaxation and entertainment, yet these individuals place gambling second in importance to family and vocation. This type of gambler could be compared to a "golf nut," whose source of relaxation comes from playing golf. Serious social gamblers still maintain control over their gambling activities.

Would You Like Personal Assistance?

If you really want help dealing with your feelings and emotions, changing your behavior, and improving your life and the approach and office hours of typical therapists and counselors do not fit your life style or personal needs, I may have a solution.

By using very flexible office appointments, telephone consultations, email, teleconferences, and the willingness to travel and meet with you personally in your home, office, or other location,  I can be available to help you anytime and anywhere.

Feel free to contact me now for your free initial consultation. Once you become an existing client, you will be given a  pager  number where you can reach me whenever you need.

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