Gambling Addiction

What is gambling addiction? 

For many people, gambling can be a fun and exciting, low-risk activity. For others, however, gambling can be a dangerous cliff which can send people into the abyss of addiction. Gambling addiction is an addiction to the act of gambling, in any form, which you or a loved one cannot control the frequency of.

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When gambling begins to affect a person’s financial, social, familial educational, recreational, or occupational situation in a negative way, it is considered an addiction. Much like a few varieties of substance addiction, gambling addiction is an act which releases dopamine in the brain on a much larger scale than normal.

Dopamine, referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, is a signalling chemical which is active throughout the reward centres of the brain. Dopamine tells your brain that it needs more of this feeling and that triggers an act which turns a harmless good feeling into a compulsive need.

Who is at risk of gambling addiction?

Other studies have revealed that gambling, like substance use may have certain genetic origins that predispose a person to becoming addicted. Sometimes people with more impulsive natures, lower levels of serotonin, those who seek out activities that provide immediate rewards and those who tend to not to consider long-term consequences of actions may be susceptible to a gambling addiction.

A few studies, (easily available on line) have revealed that gambling addicts may produce lower levels of serotonin than normal which leads to a lack of interest in activities or a lack of pleasure derived from most activities. This is called ‘Anhedonia’ and can be an underlying disorder that, left untreated leads to the open door of gambling addiction and its pitfalls. There are studies that suggest that some people are genetically predisposed to make more impulsive decisions and seek activities that provide immediate reward. These studies suggest that that parts of the brain that control inhibition and allow a person to think through potential consequences and rewards for certain actions may be under-active which draws a person towards a place which offers impulsivity and reward-seeking.

Are there common signs and side effects of gambling addiction?

Yes, like any other addict, a gambling addict will show signs and side effects of their addiction. These symptoms include:

  • Attempts will be made to quit gambling, but have been largely unsuccessful
  • Continuous thoughts of gambling, past, present and future thoughts
  • Lying about movements, spending habits etc.
  • Downplaying their involvement with gambling
  •  The need to spend money in order to get the gambling rush
  • Restlessness, anxiety, or irritability when a person attempts to reduce the amount spent on gambling or to stop gambling altogether
  • Triggering of gambling needs intensified whenever there are negative mental and emotional states felt
  • Consistent requests for money from others
  • Relationships with friends and family damaged
  • Education and employment statuses negatively impacted by gambling.
  • Often the addict will feel the need to gamble the next day after a loss
  • Mood swings that begin to resemble a mood disorder such as bipolar, highs and lows are extreme.
  • Neglecting bills and/or or stealing
  • Skipping school or work.
  • Plans are broken and forgotten/neglected.
  • Addicts become increasingly withdrawn when they are not gambling.
  • Lots of time spent online playing games that are related to gambling

It is also important to remember that a gambling addict may drink more frequently or they may very well be abusing other substances.

Gambling Addiction and substance use trigger the release of the same feel-good chemical in the brain. Your loved ones may increasingly rely on substances when they are not able to gamble.

What treatment options can treat gambling addiction?

Treating compulsive gambling/a gambling addiction can be challenging. That’s partly because most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem. A major component of treatment is working on acknowledging that a person is in fact a gambling addict. If, as an addict, your family or your employer pressured you into therapy, you may find yourself resisting treatment. But treating a gambling problem can help you regain a sense of control and can help heal damaged relationships or finances.

Treatment for gambling addiction may include approaches:


Behaviour therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy may be right for the addict; Behaviour therapy uses systematic exposure to the behaviour an addict wants to unlearn and teaches skills to reduce gambling urges. Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones. Family therapy also may help.

Self-help groups

Some people find that talking with others who have a gambling problem may be a helpful part of treatment. Ask your rehabilitation professional for advice on self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous and other resources. Treatment for compulsive gambling may involve an outpatient programme or inpatient programme, depending on your needs and resources. Treatment for substance abuse, depression, anxiety or any other mental health disorder may be part of your treatment plan for compulsive gambling.

For more information on dealing with compulsive gambling addiction or substance abuse, call Houghton House now:

office hours:  011 787 9142

24/7 emergency helpline: 079 770 7532

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