People who are addicted to gambling or have gambling addictions are actually going through a more serious underlying problem of impulse control. This means that even though gamblers realize that their actions are ruining them financially and otherwise, they still choose the gambling behavior over quitting. There are two different types of gambling addicts: those who play for the risk, and those who play for the escape. Risk gamblers are addicted to the feeling that comes with putting it all on the line. The thrill of chance literally affects the gambler in the reward center of the brain, much like a sexual climax to a sex addict or a drug hit to a drug addict. The second type of gambling addict is the escape gambler. These gamblers become addicted to gambling because it allows them to forget about their problems, even thought their behavior is only causing new ones.
There are telltale signs of a gambling addiction. The first is a secrecy of finances. If your spouse is trying to hide your family’s financial situation or bank records from you, it could be a sign of a gambling problem. The accumulation of unpaid or overdue bills may also be a sign that a gambling problem is present. An increase in credit cards, payday loans, bank loans and cash advances without reason is another serious sign that a gambling addiction has escalated. The most disturbing sign can be when valuables and jewelry–even wedding rings–start to disappear without explanation. A gambling addict may also disappear for long periods of time at all hours of the day and night, may become introverted and anti-social, and may also show signs of depression. A risk gambler may also show signs of increasingly risky behavior, such as illegal betting, as he gets bored of the risks involved with regular casino gambling.
Once gambling addicts recognize there is a problem, they can start working towards curing the behavior. Gamblers Anonymous is the first line of defense in this effort. Gamblers Anonymous is an organization founded on the same principal as Alcoholics Anonymous that stresses support and abstinence as the way to freedom from the addiction. There are Gamblers Anonymous meetings in most every major city, and many smaller cities throughout the United States and internationally (see Resources below).
For many gambling addicts, attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings is not quiet enough to help kick the gambling habit. In these cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy may be helpful. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing the thought process that leads the addict to gamble. This means weekly sessions on how to change behavioral patterns and thoughts related to gambling, from false hopes to financial reality. For escape gamblers, it forces the addicts to face the issues in their lives that they are trying to escape from through gambling. When the gambler has no reason to run from the problem anymore, there is also no reason to escape into gambling.
Addictions can oftentimes alter the chemistry of the brain. These changes can cause bipolar disorder, depression and even attention deficit disorder (ADD). All of these disorders fuel the gambling behavior in an addict. Without treating these imbalances, even daily behavioral counseling may not work. Adding mood stabilizers and anti-depressants to the gambling addicts’ treatment plans can help treat other disorders that may be contributing to the behavior problem in the first place. With those symptoms under control, many gambling addicts have a better chance of breaking free of the addiction.