There was a time when compulsive gambling was considered to be a bad habit, a hobby or preoccupation that some people took a little too far. There is a common perception that one can simply quit at any time. Many people still consider gambling addiction to be primarily a financial problem and don’t understand that deep and profound control that it can have over a person.
What is Compulsive Gambling?
Compulsive gambling can be an addiction, just as real and powerful as a serious drug addiction. According to Scientific American, "pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. Just as substance addicts require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures."
Symptoms of compulsive gambling include:
- The inability to quit gambling, despite it causing problems in one's life
- Hiding or lying about gambling
- Getting defensive when confronted about gambling
- Going to great lengths to get money to gamble
- Withdrawal symptoms when not gambling
Unfortunately, this similarity also means that drug abusers and compulsive gamblers both suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they abstain. Studies have "supported the notion that pathological gamblers experienced similar levels of withdrawal symptom severity as alcohol-dependent participants," according to a 2008 article in the journal "International Gambling Studies."
However, the studies found that further research is needed to determine whether the symptoms in the gamblers were from no longer gambling, but instead were from the loss of a way to cope and alleviate stress.
Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University found that gamblers unable to feed their habit suffer from moodiness, irritability, nausea, stomach cramps, and sweats. "These are real effects," Griffiths said. "Gamblers have withdrawal symptoms like drug addicts."
Griffiths, who has spent the last 20 years studying the minds of compulsive gamblers, believes that many of the key features of crack, heroin, alcohol, and nicotine addiction also apply to problem gamblers. For example, a gambling addiction tends to dominate a person's mind, leading to cravings and a complete preoccupation with the habit. They also build up a tolerance to their habit, leading to a need to increase their 'fix' over time.
A new understanding of compulsive gambling has helped scientists redefine addiction itself, according to the Scientific American article “How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling.” Experts used to think of addiction as dependency on a chemical, but they now define it as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions. That rewarding experience could be the high of cocaine or heroin or the thrill of doubling one's money at the casino.
Finding a comprehensive gambling treatment program will give you the best chance of finding abstinence and recovering from compulsive gambling. Trained addiction specialists and therapists that can provide the appropriate behavioral therapies, medication assisted therapies and support to assist on this important journey.
Speak to one of our gambling counselors to learn more about gambling addiction, and what the recovery process looks like. For further reading on gambling withdrawal, download our free ebook: Understanding the Basics of Gambling Withdrawal.