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How Do You Get Addicted to Gambling? - Psychological

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Even if gambling addiction originates because of some biological process, recovery from gambling addiction requires people to become motivated to make significant changes. All addictions are fundamentally a behavior. Psychology is a science that studies human behavior.

Most human behaviors are learned behaviors. This is true of addictive behavior as well. Psychological research has helped us to understand how this learning occurs. More specifically, this research provides us insight into how and why people learn to engage in harmful behaviors such as gambling. Thus, one psychological cause of gambling addiction is that it is learned behavior. Fortunately, it can also be unlearned using the principles of learning theory.

Another psychological cause of addiction is people's thoughts and beliefs. This is because much of our behavior originates from our thoughts and beliefs. This includes addictive behaviors. For instance, if someone believes that recovery is impossible, it is highly unlikely s/he will put forth any effort to quit. Psychologists have developed techniques to help people change their thoughts and beliefs. Their feelings and behavior subsequently change as well.

A third psychological cause of addiction is a person's developmental maturity. The capacity to align our actions, with our beliefs and values, is what separates mature human beings from immature ones. This capacity ultimately distinguishes human beings from other species. If we routinely act without thinking, and instead act according to every craving, whim, or impulse, we are operating at the developmental level of a two year-old child. Gambling addiction can occur because someone lacks this developmental maturity. They may be very self-focused and intent on pursuing impulsive desires without regard to the consequences. Psychotherapy can be considered a form of accelerated development. Therefore, it can be very helpful for people who are attempting to recover from gambling addiction.

Psychology has also helped us to understand why people find it so difficult to discontinue an unhealthy behavior like gambling addiction.   People may find recovery difficult because they lack good problem-solving skills and sufficient motivation.  Gambling addiction can also occur as a means of coping with uncomfortable feelings or stress.  Psychotherapy can help to strengthen people's motivation and improve their problem-solving skills, stress reduction skills, and coping skills.

In our topic center on Addiction, we review the psychological reasons people develop addictions in more detail.