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What is the definition of gambling addiction?
Is gambling addiction a disease?
Why donít gambling addicts just stop after they realize that gambling has become a problem?
Why canít I stop gambling?
How do you know if you are a gambling addict?
What is the difference between 12-step, self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous, and professional addictions treatment?
What are the key ingredients for successful recovery from gambling addiction?
Is there an addictive personality?
I think I might have a gambling problem. What should I do?

Related Topics

Impulse Control Disorders
Drug Addiction

Gambling Addiction FAQs

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.

Gambling addiction describes an impaired ability to resist the impulse to make financial wagers on games or activities that rely heavily on chance. Gambling addiction is indicated when gambling activities continue despite the harmful consequences of participation. These harmful consequences may include: 1) risky, dangerous, or unhealthy behaviors (e.g., borrowing money from unconventional sources); 2) damage to relationships; 3) financial consequences; 4) legal consequences; or 5) a failure to fulfill important life roles such as employee, student, spouse, parent, friend, etc. Some examples of these consequences are getting into arguments with a spouse or partner because of financial problems due to gambling; losing a job because the employee did not return from a lunch break because s/he remained at the race track; becoming a victim of assault because of failure to repay unconventional loans.

Gambling addiction falls into a specific category of addictions called activity addictions (or behavioral addictions). In our topic center on addiction, we define addiction:

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable

This definition of addiction includes four key components:

1. Addiction includes both substances and activities (such as gambling).
2. Addiction leads to substantial harm.
3. Addiction is repeated involvement despite substantial harm.
4. Addiction continues because it was, or is pleasurable and/or valuable.

You can read more about this definition of addiction in the article entitled, "What is gambling addiction?"

There are at least four primary ways to understand gambling addiction:

1. Gambling addiction is a biological problem.
2. Gambling addiction is a psychological problem.
3. Gambling addiction is a social or cultural problem.
4. Gambling addiction is a spiritual problem.

You can learn more about these four ways of understanding gambling addiction in the article entitled, "What causes gambling addiction?"

Recent research suggests the causes of addictions, such as gambling addiction, are heavily influenced by our biology. When viewed in this manner, gambling addiction might be considered a disease. However, there is no medical "cure" for gambling addiction. Yet, every day people recover from gambling addiction. The different ways that people recover from gambling addiction rely on psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual solutions. Therefore, viewing gambling addiction as a disease is too simplistic. When addiction is viewed as a disease, there is one dividing line. Either you have a disease, or you do not. However, we know people experience varying degrees of difficulty with addictions ranging from none to severe. Additionally, people may experience addiction problems during different periods of their life. A disease concept of addiction does not account for the full range of addiction-related problems that may come and go as people move through their lives. Similarly, it does not account for the many non-medical solutions to recovery from gambling addiction.

Of course, people do indeed stop, but it can be quite difficult for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are due to the way addictions, such as gambling addiction, cause changes to the brain. Another reason is that recovery from an addiction requires significant behavioral change. Behavioral change of any sort can be quite difficult. Many individual factors influence one's ability to make changes to behavior. For more information, see the article entitled, "How do you get addicted to gambling?".

You may also be interested to read more about addiction and the perceived loss of control in our addictions topic center.

If you truly feel you cannot stop gambling, you are describing the compulsive quality of many addictions. This compulsive quality of addiction occurs due to changes in the brain's chemistry and functioning. Compulsivity is a behavior that an individual feels driven to perform to relieve anxiety. Once a person performs the compulsive behavior, the anxiety goes away and comfort is restored. When this shift occurs, people are no longer gambling for pleasure alone. The compulsions compel them to gamble to relieve anxious, uncomfortable feelings. If gambling has become a compulsive habit, then it is quite likely that you may be developing a gambling addiction.

Addiction is defined as the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable. Therefore gambling addiction begins because it is pleasurable activity for many people. However, for some people the thrill of gambling becomes a primary means of coping with unpleasant feelings, stress, boredom, and loneliness. Like all addictions, gambling addiction develops gradually over time. When gambling continues despite harmful consequences, this is an indication that a problem is developing.

If you are wondering whether you may be developing a problem with gambling, you may want to review the article, "What is gambling addiction?". There is a list of the harmful costs of gambling addiction contained in that article. If some of these harmful costs apply to you, it would be wise to consult a professional for additional guidance. Your healthcare provider or your EAP professional may be able to refer you to an addictions specialist.

There are at least two ways to decide whether you might be a gambling addict: 1) a formal diagnostic assessment performed by an addictions specialist; or, 2) an informal self-assessment.

Gambling addiction is a specific type of addiction called an activity addiction. To perform an informal self-assessment you can use the definition of addiction and evaluate your own behavior according to this definition. In our topic center on addiction, addiction is defined as:

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.

In the section entitled, "What is gambling addiction?" we listed the many types of substantial harm that meet this definition of addiction. You could use this list to for an informal self-assessment to see if your involvement with gambling meets this definition of addiction. Addiction differs from "behavin' badly" because it means someone is repeatedly involved with a substance or activity despite substantial harm.

A second way to decide if you have a gambling addiction is to request a formal assessment by an addictions specialist. If you are concerned about the possibility having any type of addiction problem, it may be wise to ask your healthcare provider or EAP specialist for some guidance. They can refer you to an addictions specialist who will help you make an accurate assessment.

First, there are two basic types of self-help support groups:

1. Self-empowering support groups;
2. 12-step support groups.

Addiction is similar to many other types of problems. Some people require professional assistance, while other people do not. 12-step groups like Gamblers Anonymous are non-professional groups. One of the primary differences between 12-step support groups and professional treatment is the issue of confidentiality. Professional healthcare providers are required by law to maintain confidentiality. No such assurances exist in non-professional groups. Because gambling addiction may include illegal, dangerous, or shameful activities, the issue of confidentiality may be a very significant one. Laws regarding confidentiality vary from state-to-state. Some types of illegal activities and disclosures made during a therapy session are not protected by confidentiality. If you decide to pursue professional treatment, you should be sure to ask your therapist about the limits of confidentiality.

Another significant difference is that professional healthcare providers rely on science and research to guide their methods. 12-step support groups rely on spiritual solutions. These differences have led to a great deal of unnecessary controversy between supporters of science and supporters of 12-step groups. It is perfectly fine to integrate spiritual and scientific solutions. We developed a guide to help you set up your own personal program of recovery.

There are four key ingredients for successful addictions recovery. This is true whether someone is attempting independent recovery, or relying on professional help. These are:

1. Humility
2. Motivation
3. Sustained effort
4. Restoring meaning and purpose to life

Of these, motivation is perhaps the most essential. It is important to note that motivation can be strengthened. Therefore, even if someone is initially unsure about whether s/he wants to give up their addiction, they can increase their motivation. This is done by conducting a realistic appraisal of the costs and benefits of continuing the addiction. One technique that helps people make an accurate appraisal is called motivational interviewing. You can read more about these four key ingredients and motivational interviewing in this section.

Personality refers to a unique and enduring pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Contrary to popular belief, research has been unable to identify an "addictive personality." Most of the research regarding addiction and personality traits has been conducted with people who have alcohol use disorders. Despite the lack of support for an "addictive personality" there are some personality traits that are more commonly observed in people with addictive disorders. These personality traits include nonconformity; impulsivity; sensation- or thrill-seeking; negative affect (e.g., depression, anxiety); low self-esteem; and an external locus of control.

There are many different types of help available from self-help groups to professional treatment. We have created a personal action plan for recovery for those people who would prefer the self-help approach. We have also developed guidelines for choosing treatment options for those people who prefer professional assistance. The most important thing to do is take some action, rather than just wondering about it. Although thinking about a problem usually precedes doing something about it, the bottom line is that action is what creates the desired change.