A trip to the casino or race track may be just an afternoon of leisure for most people. But for some, gambling can become compulsive to the point of addiction. Pathological or compulsive gambling is a disorder that can take a toll on your health, work, or relationships.
"Addiction is manifested in several ways," says addict-turned-counselor Ryan Cain, president of the SPERO Group, a network of rehabilitation and mental health facilities. "First, the concept of craving, or in the case of gambling, obsession, begins. Second an individual becomes powerless over their addictions and loses control. Third, an addicted person will continue to act out despite negative consequences."
Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling include:
- Preoccupation with gambling
- An increase in the amount of money you need to gamble in order to maintain the thrill
- Failure to cut back or quit gambling
- Gambling to escape problems
- Lying about the extent of your gambling
- Jeopardizing relationships, work, or responsibilities because of gambling
- Relying on others to bail you out because you gambled money away
The Mayo Clinic says, "Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, people with a compulsive gambling problem are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time."
The first step in treating a gambling addiction, as with any addiction, is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Addressing the issue is the first step towards recovery and change. There are a variety of methods to help treat gambling addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This form of therapy works to address repetitive negative behavior and finds healthy ways to stop the pattern.
Often compulsive gambling exists alongside other conditions, like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or ADHD. Antidepressants may be effective in combating other conditions that are linked to compulsive gambling.
Like substance abuse support groups, gamblers can find meetings all over the country where those struggling with gambling addictions can come help each other and share in the recovery process. Gambler's Anonymous, for example, is one of those groups.
Residential Treatment Centers
A residential gambling treatment center is much like a substance use treatment center. It is designed to remove you from your addictive life. This treatment allows you to experience 24-hour care while participating in therapy to confront your addiction.
Most treatment centers hold patients for 30 to 90 days, where you can undergo dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Often in group settings, these treatments use systematic exposure to the behavior clients want to unlearn.