Compulsive Gambling Addiction And Substance Abuse

Studies have found new links between people suffering from gambling addiction and substance abuse. Effective treatment for these problems requires individualized treatment plans.

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While many may associate addiction with drugs or alcohol, gambling is also an addiction that affects between 10 to 20 percent of the adult population in the United States.

The relationship between substance abuse and gambling addiction has been acknowledged by health professionals for some time. Gambling addiction is linked with other psychological disorders and is likely to occur with depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders like substance abuse.

It is common for people to experience more than one disorder at a time. Of 9,282 adults in one poll, 45 percent of them were diagnosed with more than one disorder, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Some of the substances abused by people suffering from gambling addiction include, tobacco, alcohol, and stimulants. Mixing the compulsive behaviors of gambling addiction with a drug or alcohol use disorder increases the need for individualized treatment.

One main difference between substance abuse and gambling addiction is that gambling is a more cognitively-based disorder than substance abuse or dependence. Some researchers believe that people who gamble excessively show more flaws in their belief systems about their ability to win at gambling than do people with substance abuse disorders.

Some people with gambling problems also have cognitive distortions about their need for excitement, and a correlating distorted belief that they will not be able to function without the excitement that they get from gambling.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

Those who suffer from gambling addiction are unable to stop or control their impulses to gamble. Gambling addiction falls into two categories: problem gambling and pathological gambling.

Problem gambling is the preferred term among health professionals for compulsive gambling and is identified by any harm being experienced by the person gambling or others.

Pathological gambling is defined by the gambler’s behavior. However, problem gambling can develop into pathological gambling.

Extreme cases of problem gambling may even cross the line into mental disorders. Pathological gambling is a chronic and progressive illness, and is characterized by persistent and recurring negative gambling behavior.

The following are possible symptoms of someone suffering from a gambling addiction:

  • Consumed by thoughts of past, present, and future gambling experiences.
  • Increased or more frequent wagers to experience the same “rush” from gambling.
  • Increased restlessness or irritability due to trying to stop gambling.
  • Using gambling as a means to improve their mood or escape problems.
  • Returning to gambling to try and win back any gambling losses.
  • Lying about the extent of their gambling to family, friends, or therapists.
  • Losing control of when or how often they gamble.
  • Breaking the law to get more money for gambling or to recover losses.
  • Continuing to gamble, despite the risk of losing a relationship, job, or other significant opportunity.
  • Looking for family, friends, or another source for financial assistance to bail them out of gambling debt.

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Who Is Affected?

Gambling addiction is a disease that has the potential to be a problem for millions of people. People who abuse substances have an increased risk for gambling addiction, as they are already predisposed to compulsive and euphoria-inducing behaviors.

Individuals suffering from mental illness are also more likely to develop a gambling disorder when compared to the general population.

The easy access of online gambling is another factor contributing to the increasing number of people suffering from gambling addiction. Online gambling can be dangerous because covering up any problematic gambling activity becomes easier when doing it online.

Like alcohol, gambling is legal and is a readily-available activity. Some studies state that people who live within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to develop a gambling problem than someone who lives further from one.

Biology’s Influence On Gambling Addiction

A theory adopted by some researchers suggest people with lower levels of norepinephrine have an increased risk of developing a pathological gambling addiction. Norepinephrine is a hormone that is released in the brain during times of stress, arousal, or thrill. So, people lacking the hormone naturally may gamble in order to compensate.

Further proof to this theory was provided by a Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions experiment. During this experiment, participants were presented with situations where they could win, lose, and break-even in a casino-like environment while under the observation of brain imaging machines.

The images produced by the study indicate that the same region of the brain is activated when someone is put in a gambling-like experiment as someone who is abusing cocaine. The study also noted that deficiencies in the serotonin hormone may also contribute to compulsive behavior, like gambling addiction.

Other Related Problems

Gambling addiction and substance abuse can cause a ripple effect in someone’s life, leaving many other related problems in their wake. These can include the debt brought about by a gambling addiction, which can cause people to look for other sources of income.

As a result, people with a gambling addiction may resort to theft or selling drugs to earn more money, or to obtaining high-interest loans from bookies or loan sharks.

A financial crisis is often what prompts a gambler to seek counseling. Many people who struggle with gambling disorders are heavily indebted. To deal with these debts many people return to gambling to win money. If their financial crisis is not managed appropriately, this can lead to relapse.

Abusive environments are also common in homes where pathological gambling is present. Growing up in an abusive situation leads to improper emotional development and increased risk of suffering from problem gambling behaviors.

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Treating Gambling Addiction And Substance Abuse

Individualized treatment is important because gambling addiction and substance abuse can feed off each other and make each disorder worse. For example, someone suffering from compulsive gambling may drink to calm their nerves. Knowing how to identify personal triggers that bring about these behaviors is one of the key components to successfully treating both disorders.

Everyone is different, and will need a treatment plan specific to their needs to successfully recover from gambling addiction and substance abuse. Often, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people identify, challenge, and change any cognitive distortions.

Without CBT there is an increased risk of relapse to gambling because the cognitive distortions of winning are not broken and people may still believe they are going to win if they continue to gamble. It is not uncommon to suggest that someone going through treatment surrender access and control of financial matters to his or her spouse, or another trusted person, as a preventive measure.

Treating co-occurring disorders, like gambling addiction and substance abuse, requires a comprehensive treatment plan, which can be found at an inpatient rehab center. In an inpatient program, individuals can receive daily medical care and support while healing from substance abuse and learning to manage addiction.

To learn more about gambling addiction and substance abuse treatment, contact us today.



National Center for Biotechnological Information—Reviewing Two Types of AddictionPathological Gambling and Substance Use, Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication

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