Gambling addiction, or compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder. Individuals with a gambling addiction cannot control their impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. For someone with a gambling addiction, the gambling takes over their thoughts and behaviours, driving them to want to gamble, despite negative consequences. Individuals who are addicted will often keep gambling whether they are winning or losing, happy or depressed. If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, you might feel that you must continue to gamble even if you know the odds are against you, and even when you can’t afford to lose. You may find it difficult to explain the overwhelming urge to gamble to family and friends, and feel guilty that you are not in control. However, like any addiction, professional help is often needed to overcome it’s hold.
The most common forms of gambling are betting on sports, betting at the casino, or playing the lottery. Individuals who enjoy gambling often use gambling as a release, and a way to unwind after a stressful day, an argument, or a challenging situation. However, if your gambling behaviour has started to cause tension with family or friends, or has started to impact your ability to work or maintain other commitments, you may benefit from speaking with a psychologist.
Gambling often leads to financial hardship, which can then put strain on your relationships with a partner or other family. Having to hide losses and financial problems from family members can be extremely stressful. Arguing with loved ones about money often leads to unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety, and can trigger compulsive gambling or make the gambling behaviour worse. 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.
If you believe you may be struggling with a gambling addition, the practitioners at VCPS can help in various ways:
- Helping you to identify the thought patterns that causes you to gamble; identifying triggers and high-risk situations; reducing access to money or venues; modifying routines
- Goal setting – creating action plans and alternative activities
- Teaching you to cope with negative emotions – learning alternative ways of dealing with strong emotions (e.g. improving problem-solving skills and relaxation techniques)
- Helping to prevent you from relapsing by maintaining 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