How to Help Someone With Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, referred to as problem gambling (PG) or compulsive gambling, is a condition characterized by extensive gambling without regard for negative consequences. This should not be confused with a single large loss of money, occasional card playing, or other similar, harmless activities. Instead, PG is a complex condition that affects many areas of an individual’s life.

Key takeaways:
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    Problem gambling is a persistent compulsive condition.
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    Denial is often a part of problem gambling.
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    Therapy is the primary treatment for problem gambling.

Problem gambling symptoms

PG is a persistent and recurrent behavior that leads to significant clinical impairments. An individual is considered to be a problem gambler if they have exhibited four or more of the following behaviors in the past 12­ months.

Experienced excitement by mere gambling regardless of the outcome (e.g., winning or losing). The same excitement is only achieved by increasing bet size.

Gambling less evokes negative emotions, including restlessness and irritability.

There have been repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.

Experiencing a preoccupation with gambling thoughts. This includes fantasizing about future situations or reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling occasion, thinking of different ways, or devising plans to get (more) money for gambling.

Using gambling as a coping mechanism. For example, gambling when feeling helpless, guilty, anxious, or depressed or gambling as a celebration of achievement, etc.

Dismissing the losses or having an unrealistic belief about the winning chances. For example, after losing money, they tell themselves that they just need “to get even” or lie to others about the actual situation they were in, e.g., having the winning cards or similar, or trying to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.

Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.

Exhibits no financial responsibility. For example, relying on close ones, friends, or family to provide them with money for survival, bills, rent — or future gambling.

The PG can vary in severity and is usually assessed by looking at the number of characteristics met as well as the length of time these particular symptoms have been present. Using the parameters above, exhibiting three to four criteria is considered mild, while meeting all eight is considered severe.

It is important to note that in some neuropsychological disorders, gambling manifests as a symptom, for example, a manic episode in bipolar disorder. In this example, the behavior would not be considered problem gambling because it is an isolated instance. Problem gambling is a persistent condition, which means that it must be present for a longer period. However, PG can co-occur with other mental health conditions.

What may be causing PG?

It is not entirely clear why some people can periodically enjoy gambling responsibly while others develop a problem. It is widely agreed that it is likely due to an interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Some people have suggested that PG creates similar addictive neurobiological and functional patterns as addictive substances.

Risk factors involved in PG are a bit more conclusively described. These include.

Mental health issues and family history of PG. For example, PG has been observed as a co-occurring condition in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

There are interesting gender differences in gambling. For instance, men are more prone to PG. However, women who develop problems with gambling tend to do so later in life, but the condition manifests more quickly.

Personality studies have shown that people who are more competitive and have a tendency to be impulsive more often develop PG. It also seems that characteristics such as being a workaholic or someone who is easily bored are related to PG. Note: These are correlational suggestions, but that does not mean that they have a causal link!

Some medication side effects result in compulsive behaviors. For example, medication taken to treat Parkinson’s Disease may induce a need to gamble, thus increasing the chances of developing a problem with gambling.

Helping a gambling addict

Individuals suffering from PG rarely admit that there’s anything wrong. Therefore, their friends, family, or coworkers are often the first to notice a problem. If a loved one has expressed their concerns about your gambling behaviors, it is best to listen to them. Denial is often a characteristic of PG.

If you’re concerned that a close friend may have a gambling problem, you should try and talk to them. Try to be supportive, and understanding, and express your concerns calmly. Try to avoid judging or blaming them, as it might make them defensive.

If you have a close one who is in remission, you should consider avoiding triggers that may result in a relapse of PG. For example, consider activities that do not involve gambling or bidding of any sort — even as a rule of a game. It’s also best to avoid visiting places such as casinos, racetracks, or similar establishments.

What help is available to treat PG?

The treatment for PG can take many forms. Primarily it is addressed by therapy, which focuses on reducing the urge to gamble and understanding the negative effects. In cases where PG is paired with another condition like bipolar disorder (link to relevant article), medication can be prescribed.

If you are suffering from PG, especially if you have been pressured into treatment by family, an employer, or friends, it can be challenging to commit to it. Nevertheless, the right thing to do is stick with treatment. It will help you to regain a sense of control and will have a positive economic impact, and it will also improve the social or romantic aspects of your life.

Many people find it helpful to attend support groups like Gamblers Anonymous. This can be done together with therapy or while in remission. The internet has even become a platform for online support groups. This type of support may work best if you have transportation issues or you live in a remote area. To help family and friends heal together, support groups for loved ones are also available.