The Impact Of Gambling Addiction On Mental Health

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated November 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you or a loved one experience an overwhelming urge to gamble? Gambling addiction, also called compulsive gambling or pathological gambling, can be a severe issue that can affect a person's mental health and general well-being. Understanding the implications of compulsive gambling and different methods of addressing it can support a higher quality of life for compulsive gamblers as well as a higher general level of empathy in society. 

In this article, we'll look more closely at the realities of gambling addiction and how it might affect one's mental health. We will also go over the benefits of getting professional assistance if you have a gambling addiction and the various available treatment options. 

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Are You Or A Loved One Experiencing Gambling Addiction?

Understanding Gambling Addiction

Compulsive gambling is considered an addictive disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Gambling addiction can develop due to changes in the brain's reward system. This system may release the neurotransmitter dopamine when an individual could be exposed to certain activities or substances, which can lead them to feel good and crave more of it. In the case of gambling addicts, this dopamine rush can serve as a motivation for them to continue gambling money despite potential risks and harmful consequences.

The development of gambling addiction may also be due to environmental factors, such as peer pressure, stress or depression. Gambling might provide an escape from these negative emotions for some and can serve as a coping mechanism for dealing with these issues. The gambler can then rely on this activity more often to keep their mood elevated or get out of difficult situations.

Possible Risk Factors For Gambling Addiction

Anyone can have the ability to become addicted to gambling; however, certain people may be at higher risk than others. These risk factors can include:

Mental Health Conditions

People living with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction because they may use gambling to numb their feelings or cope with complex life events.

Family History

If there is a history of substance use disorder or other behavioral addictions in the family, people may be more likely to develop a habit due to genetic predisposition and learned behaviors from families whose lifestyles may promote addictive behavior patterns. Please note that the term ‘substance abuse’ is no longer included in the DSM-5, and instead is referred to as ‘substance use disorder’.

Low Self-Esteem

People who may have low self-esteem may turn to gambling to boost their confidence and feel better about themselves. This can lead to exaggerated optimism, which can then increase the chances of becoming addicted if the gambler starts taking excessive risks in hopes of winning big payouts.

Reachability

Where one lives might also affect whether someone is likely to develop an addiction. Online gambling has also made it easier for people to begin gambling online no matter their proximity to a physical casino.

Signs And Symptoms Of Gambling Addiction

The signs and symptoms of gambling addiction may vary from person to person — however, some common signs can include:

  • Lying about how much time or money has been spent on gambling activities
  • Experiencing difficulty controlling urges when tempted by a casino or online game
  • Neglecting responsibilities such as work or school in favor of gambling
  • Feeling restless, irritable or anxious when one is unable to gamble
  • Feeling hopeless when not betting, or chasing losses instead
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as stealing or lying

If you recognize yourself, a family or a friend experiencing any combination of these signs and symptoms, then it’s possible compulsive gambling may be present.

Online therapy can be a supportive strategy to use to lessen the impact of gambling affects, the consequences of excessive gambling, help with managing money, and can promote a higher quality of life. 

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The Impact Of Gambling Addiction On Mental Health

One of the top impacts that gambling addiction can have on mental health is an increased risk for other mental health conditions — such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Chronic gambling may lead to many other negative consequences, including financial problems, strained relationships with family and friends, guilt or shame about their behaviors, alcohol addiction, or substance use disorder.

The Role Of Stress In Gambling Addiction and Mental Health Management 

Stress is considered by many to be one of the leading causes of the development of gambling addiction. Research suggests that people who experience higher stress levels due to life events such as job loss or divorce are more likely to start or increase their gambling activity to escape the circumstances they might find themselves in.

Exploring The Connection Between Gambling Addiction And Suicidality

Gambling addiction has also been clinically linked to suicidal ideations by many researchers. Studies suggest that people experiencing disordered gambling may be more likely than non-gamblers to report thoughts about ending their own lives.

This may be due to a combination of factors, such as:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by lost money or debt resulting from excessive betting activities
  • Experiencing a deep sense of guilt over how gambling behavior has affected their family life and loved ones
  • Experiencing a lack of confidence in their ability ever to stop gambling and change or overcome the addiction
  • Experiencing a fear or shame surrounding public revelation if seeking help

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consider reaching out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7, 365.

Exploring The Impact Of Gambling On Relationships And Social Support Systems

Gambling addiction can impact an individual’s relationships and social support systems. This may a gambling disorder might lead to problems with family finances, which in turn might cause strain in marriages or other close relationships.

Additionally, the secretive nature of pathological gambling can mean that those closest to the person may not even be aware of their partner’s gambling problem. This may lead to feelings of guilt and shame, as well as mistrust between the two parties— making it difficult for them to communicate effectively.

Treatment Options for Gambling Addiction

If you or a loved one are experiencing gambling addiction, call The National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700, 24-hour support. The UCLA Gambling Studies Program has also developed comprehensive research, tools, and forums for those struggling with gambling addiction.

Another way to help overcome your gambling addiction is by allowing your partner or a loved one to take over your finances while you’re in recovery, allowing them to keep an eye on your bank account and credit card statements for signs of relapse.

You may also try techniques such as distracting yourself from thinking about gambling, visualizing the consequences for if you gamble, or postpone gambling by waiting a few minutes or a few hours to see if the urge to gamble subsides with time. For more in-depth support, working with a therapist can help you address your gambling addiction and find an individual treatment plan to help you recover.

How Can Online Therapy Support Those Living With Gambling Addiction?  

One of the primary benefits of online therapy for gambling addiction is that it may allow individuals to work through the emotions and feelings associated with their addiction from the comfort of their own home – which may empower them to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. 

Additionally, gambling addiction might be linked to underlying mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders. Online therapy could support people in addressing these concerns and improving their overall mental health. 

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Are You Or A Loved One Experiencing Gambling Addiction?

Is Online Therapy Effective For Gambling Disorder?

A recent study published by Griffeth University provides strong evidence of the effectiveness of online therapy for individuals with gambling addiction. The study demonstrated an eight-week internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy program that could significantly improve gambling problems and psychiatric symptoms compared to a control group that received no therapy. This study suggested a successful efficacy rate of online therapy in this context through clinical participant self-reporting, demonstrating the effectiveness of online therapy for gambling addiction and supporting the idea that online therapy may be an essential part of a recovery process.

Takeaway

Gambling addiction can have widespread effects in one’s life. Online therapy can be an effective means to treat gambling addiction by providing support for individuals as they work through possible underlying mental health issues, rebuild trust in relationships and develop healthier coping mechanisms. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your area of need.

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