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Gambling Addiction

Is “Gambling Addiction” a Real Disorder?

The short answer: yes, of course it is. But it can be extremely difficult for some people to believe that a behavior (such as gambling) can become just as addictive as drugs or alcohol. That sort of skepticism, however, usually comes from people who don’t understand how the human brain works. In a normal, healthy human brain, dopamine is released in large quantities whenever we experience something that makes us feel rewarded (such as earning a promotion, eating a piece of cake, or watching our favorite TV show). But when a brain develops a compulsive urge to repeat a pleasurable activity over and over to get that surge of euphoria from the dopamine release, that is the definition of an addiction. In reality, it isn’t the substances themselves that most people get addicted to; it’s the happy feeling of reward and contentment they get when that compulsive urge gets indulged.

Gamblers feel the same dopamine “high” whenever they risk a significant sum of money on a bet and come out on top. That feeling of winning, combined with the sudden reward of money that they didn’t have before, trigger the same dopamine release in the brain that drugs and alcohol do. In some ways, this can make it difficult to treat a gambling addiction when compare to treatment for drugs or alcohol. After all, there are certain medicines which can help patients who are addicted to a particular substance get better. Since there is no such medicine for addictive behaviors like gambling, the recovery is completely psychological.

The Real World Consequences of Gambling

Gambling isn’t just an expensive hobby. Much like drugs or alcohol, gambling can put a serious strain on the financial resources of anyone plagued by a gambling addiction. It isn’t uncommon for gambling addicts to risk losing their life savings, their property, or stealing money from others in order to get the funds they need for a gambling venture.

Gambling can have a negative impact on a person’s social life as well. Once the cycle of addiction starts, gamblers may find themselves spending less time with family and loved ones in favor of gambling. Their gambling habits may put a strain on their relationships and even bring an end to them. It doesn’t take much for a person struggling with a gambling disorder to become isolated from friends, family, and the non-gambling activities that they used to enjoy. For financial and social reasons, it’s important to get help for a gambling problem before the disorder progresses to such extremes.

Getting Help for a Gambling Addiction

Due to the psychological nature of gambling addiction, treatment usually starts with outpatient counseling. The gambling addict will meet with a professional counselor who specializes in addictive behaviors and, through cognitive behavioral techniques, work towards helping the gambling addict reduce their compulsive urges.

Group therapy sessions may also provide a significant benefit to a person who is struggling with a gambling addiction. Knowing that they are not alone, hearing the stories of other gambling addicts, and getting helpful suggestions from those who have been recovering from a gambling addiction can prove extremely beneficial for someone who just started down their own path toward recovery.

In some cases, drugs such as naltrexone may be used to help curb gambling urges. Naltrexone is a prescription drug which acts as an opioid antagonist. While you are on naltrexone, even if you relapse and find yourself gambling again, you won’t feel the same pleasure as before. The theory is that by preventing the neurological reward system from activating when you engage in compulsive gambling, your brain will rewire itself to the point where you no longer associate gambling with happiness and euphoria.

If you or someone you love is suffering from a gambling addiction, there is help. Contact us today for assistance and access to resources that can help you or the compulsive gambler in your life start down the path toward recovery.