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by Dr. Becky Spelman on 17/01/2021

Overcoming a Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is similar to substance addiction in many ways. Someone who abuses heroin or another dangerous substance does so because the drug activates the pleasure centres in their brain, which secretes serotonin, providing a powerful sense of well-being and leaving them craving more. Gambling does the exact same thing. The thrill of the gamble, and the excitement of winning, or at least the prospect of winning, creates pleasurable sensations that can be hard-wired into the brain, leaving the person constantly wanting to experience them again. Over time, they may need to gamble incrementally larger sums of money in order to achieve the pleasurable sensations that they crave.

The impact of a gambling addiction on the person involved, and on their family, can be considerable. Unsurprisingly, problem gamblers often have financial problems, and they are also are likely to experience affective issues, such as depression or anxiety, relationship breakdown, and a loss of trust. Many gambling addicts lose a romantic partner, a job, and more, because of their addiction. Many also suffer from a range of co-morbidities, which can include alcohol or other substance abuse, personality disorders, and recurrent suicidal ideation.

Because gambling addiction is not always recognised as a mental health disorder, and instead is often seen as a moral failing, many gambling addicts do not receive the help they need in a timely manner. However, the good news is that help is available and that, with the right support, most gambling addicts can gain control over their condition.

In the short-term, medication can help. Because the “high” in gambling is associated with the secretion of serotonin in the brain, medication that affects serotonin can provide some relief.

However, for a long-term solution to gambling addiction, it is important to attend a suitable form of therapy, perhaps in parallel with active membership of a self-help group such as one of the various “twelve-step” programmes available in the community.

Therapies that have been clinically proven to help with gambling addiction include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helps the patient to replace damaging behaviours with new, more useful and productive ones, and is often the most effective treatment for this issue, and Psychodynamic Therapy. Family therapy or couples therapy can also be indicated for gambling addiction, as the addiction tends to have a very negative impact on the whole family, which may benefit from help with reconfiguring their relationships and rebuilding trust. Because everyone’s situation is unique, the Therapist may choose to tailor a bespoke approach to Therapy, using various modalities to address the issues at hand.

If you would like to talk to someone about issues relating to gambling addiction, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738, book online or by email at: info@privatetherapyclinic.com.

REFERENCES

Gobet, Fernand; Schiller, Marvin, eds. (2014). Problem gambling: Cognition, prevention and treatment. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ladd, George; Petry, Nancy (August 2003). “A Comparison of Pathological Gamblers with and without Substance Abuse Treatment Histories”. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 11 (3): 202–209.

Volkow ND, Koob GF, McLellan AT (January 2016). “Neurobiologic Advances from the Brain Disease Model of Addiction”. New England Journal of Medicine. 374 (4): 363–371.

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