Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers sometimes feel they cannot control their impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling controls their thoughts and behaviours; it is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter what the consequence. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they are up or down, happy or depressed. People with a gambling addiction still feel that they must continue to gamble even when they know the odds are against them and even when they can’t afford to lose.
Unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety can trigger compulsive gambling or make it worse. A compulsive gambler can be use gambling as a release and way to unwind after a stressful day, an argument, or a challenging situation.
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as the “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers typically deny or minimise the problem, as well as going to excessive lengths to hide their gambling.
Every gambler is unique and therefore treatment needs to be tailored specifically to the individual. The biggest step in treatment is the individual recognising that they have a gambling addiction.
Therapy is very important for individuals with a gambling problem. The psychologists at Foundation Psychology can help individuals with an addiction in various ways:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – learning to identify the thinking that causes the individual to gamble; identifying triggers and high-risk situations; reducing access to money or venues; modifying routines
- goal setting – creating action plans and alternative activities
- coping with negative emotions – learning alternative ways of dealing with strong emotions (e.g. improving problem-solving skills and relaxation techniques)
- relapse prevention – helping to maintain changes over time in order to avoid returning to gambling in the future; developing plans for future situations; and how to recover from a slip.