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Problem Gambling and Gambling Addictions: An Introduction

Written by Marissa Thompson, CCPRD Project Associate

At the Kenneth Young Center, we recently received a new grant to create programming to support those in recovery from problem gambling. When it comes to addiction, not many people know that addiction can take many forms. Traditionally, people have thought of addictive behaviors such as substance use, or alcoholism. Today, research shows that addictive behaviors can include many different activities that can impact a person’s life. Gambling, similar to drugs or alcohol, stimulates the pleasure-seeking and reward system parts of the brain that can lead to addiction. Gambling can take place in many forms including: slot games, sports betting, participating in the lottery and casino table games such as Poker. Gambling as an action means that someone is willing to risk something of value in the hope of getting something of higher value in return.

Gambling problems can affect people from many different backgrounds. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and genders can fall victim to a gambling addiction. Gambling addiction—also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder. This means that a person cannot control the urge or impulse to gamble, even if they know the possibility of negative consequences. When discussing the most common outcome of a gambling addiction most people consider the financial consequences of gambling, when a person loses more money than they can afford to gamble. This can create a vicious cycle of gambling in order to make the money back, something referred to as “chasing losses”. In addition to the financial consequences, people dealing with a gambling addiction can lose their job, suffer relationship problems and even experience homelessness.

Additionally, people can have a gambling problem that doesn’t inherently spiral out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that disrupts a person’s day to day life. If a person is preoccupied with gambling, gambling despite knowing serious consequences, spending an inappropriate amount of time and money on gambling, these may be signs of a gambling problem. Although both titles are often used interchangeably, addiction specialists define the main difference between a gambling addiction and a gambling problem so that a person with a gambling addiction may need additional support such as an intervention in order to reduce their impulsive behaviors.

Like many addictive behaviors, gambling problems often pair with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance use. Treatment geared towards addictive behaviors has become more accessible in recent years. Research shows that most addictive behaviors, including gambling, can be treated successfully with a combination of therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments. If you or someone you love has been struggling with a gambling addiction or problem, it’s never too early, or late, to reach out for help.

Looking for support with gambling? You have resources!

- Call or text National Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-522-4700

- Learn more at the Helpline about problem gambling, symptoms, and ways to recover

- Join a virtual SMART Recovery meeting through the Kenneth Young Center

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