Gambling disorder is when a person loses control over his/her gambling behaviour which consequently causes problems with personal relationships, finances, and work. The symptoms of such a disorder, its causes, and the treatment options available are discussed in the following paragraphs.
What is Gambling Disorder?
Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something valuable to them to get back something else in return that is of greater value. People usually gamble at the races or in casinos, among other places.
Also called compulsive or problem gambling, gambling is common in all parts of the world. However, people with a gambling disorder can in no way control their desire to gamble.
Gambling is known to stimulate an individual’s reward center in the brain, just like alcohol or addictive substances do, leading to addiction. An individual with a gambling disorder continuously chases bets, many a time leading to debts and money losses.
Gambling disorder is a serious condition that can turn people’s lives upside down and even destroy them. However, many people who suffer from gambling disorder have obtained help via professional treatment.
Symptoms of Gambling Disorder:
• Preoccupation with gambling, constantly planning gambling and related activities and how to obtain more money for gambling
• Gambling with higher amounts of money for the same amount of thrill
• Control or cut back on gambling with no success
• Feel irritable when others try to control their gambling
• Gamble to escape from problems or overcome feelings of guilt, helplessness, depression, or anxiety
• Try to get back money lost in gambling by gambling more
• Lying to hide the severity of the gambling problem
• Risk/Lose important relationships/job/work opportunities/sent off from school because of gambling
• Asking others to bail you out of financial troubles because of gambling losses
Causes and Risk Factors
Gambling disorder is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
• Many individuals who place bets or play cards never become gambling addicts. However, the following factors are seen as being more associated with developing a gambling disorder.
• Often people who gamble compulsively are seen to have substance abuse problems, depression, personality disorders, or anxiety. The disorder is associated with BPD, OCD, or ADHD.
• Compulsive gambling is more common among younger and middle-aged individuals. Gambling during childhood/teenage years increases the risk of developing compulsive gambling later in life. Compulsive gambling in older adults can also lead to problems.
• Compulsive gambling is seen more in men than women. However, compulsive women gamblers typically start later in their life and are seen to become addicted more quickly.
• Gambling patterns among men and women are increasingly similar.
• You can develop a gambling problem more easily if your family members or friends have the same problem.
• In rare cases, medications that are used to treat Parkinson's disease and restless legs syndrome such as dopamine agonists have a side effect resulting in compulsive behaviours such as gambling.
• Personality characteristics such as being highly competitive, being a workaholic, impulsive, or restless/easily bored may lead to compulsive gambling.
Gambling can lead to dire complications if left untreated. Some of the possible complications are:
• Relationship issues
• Financial problems like bankruptcy
• Legal problems including imprisonment
• Poor work performance/job loss
• Poor general health
• Suicide, suicidal thoughts, and attempts to commit suicide
A gambling disorder is diagnosed as being present when any doctor or mental health professional sees that the patient has experienced at least four of the above symptoms in the past year.
Mental health professionals at Softmind opt to treat patients with gambling disorder using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The psychologists attempt to do this to understand why the patients opt to gamble in the first place.
The psychologists also teach the patients how to handle gambling urges, mend broken relationships, maintain their jobs and finances, and handle other personal issues.
Psychologists at Softmind do not recommend any medication for disorders that are mild to moderate. However, in some cases, the psychiatrist may advise a combination approach.
There is no definitive way to prevent a gambling problem. However, educational programs targeting individuals/groups at increased risk may prove helpful.
Individuals with risk factors for compulsive gambling, should avoid gambling in any form, shun company with others who gamble and avoid going to places where gambling occurs.
Treatment has to be sought at the earliest sign of a gambling problem to avoid worse situations in the future.