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gambling addiction treatment

Understanding Gambling Addiction

Approximately 85% of American adults have tried their luck at gambling. For most people, heading to the casino is a fun, social activity. But for some, it can turn into a major addiction.

A gambling addiction can pose serious consequences to financial and behavioral health. It can also lead to deteriorating relationships and risky behavior. Explore gambling addiction symptoms, causes, and how to regain control!

When we think of addiction, we usually imagine substance abuse in the form of drugs or alcohol. But recently, the concept of behavioral addictions has become a larger field of research.

For a formal diagnosis of addiction, someone must:

Disordered gambling became a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. It’s part of a group of behavioral addictions that include the internet, food, shopping, and sex addiction. Studies report that up to two million people struggle with a gambling addiction in the US.

If someone consistently seeks out gambling, whether online or in-person, they might have an addiction. But how much is too much? Let’s take a look at the signs of gambling addiction.

Signs of a Gambling Addiction

An addiction can start small and grow into a monster. They might be playing the slots for fun, only to find themselves loaning money for bigger bets. If you suspect you may have a gambling addiction, ask yourself if you:

Addictions are often first noticed by spouses, parents, or close friends. If you suspect your loved one has a gambling addiction, look for these red flags:

Studies show that men are more likely to develop a gambling addiction than women. One study showed that more than 20% of males had gambling problems, compared to 7.8% of females. Men were also found to gamble twice as much as women in general.

Causes of Gambling Addiction

The causes of addiction are usually a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Most research suggests that disordered gambling is no different. A person’s personality, brain, and genetics can increase the risk of developing a gambling addiction.


Would you describe yourself as impulsive or compulsive? Do you often seek thrilling activities and revel in risk-taking? Research shows that these personality traits are often associated with disordered gambling.

A key feature of drug and alcohol addiction is low harm avoidance. But in most behavioral addictions, people actually showed high harm avoidance. Harm avoidance, in terms of personality traits, translates to pessimism, anxiety, doubt, and fear.

Brain Function

If you could have a smaller reward now or a larger reward later, which one would you choose? Most people who struggle with disordered gambling would choose the former. Studies show that gambling addicts prefer immediate rewards, which fuels the fire for more gambling.

Brain Chemistry

Many psychiatric disorders have a strong connection with neurotransmitter functioning. For gambling addiction, these include:

If someone has lower than-average levels of these neurotransmitters, then a big win can trigger them. That flood of happiness, energy, and power propels them to keep betting higher, hoping for a bigger reward. When comparing this to substance addiction, you can think of a big win as “the high” that gamblers crave.

Family History and Genetics

Disordered gambling and genetics aren’t yet widely studied. But a few small studies point to specific genes responsible for serotonin and dopamine transmission. Other studies suggest that family history might be a more significant risk factor than the environment.

It’s important to keep in mind that this research is limited to a few studies. Another constraint is that the subjects are usually men. But if someone does have a parent with a gambling addiction, be aware of the possible connection.

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The Addiction and Behavioral Health Connection

Addiction and psychiatric disorders are often comorbid, meaning they occur simultaneously. Studies have found strong links between gambling addiction and other behavioral health disorders. These include:

The research also connects the high rate of suicide and suicidal thinking among gamblers. Many see it as a solution for their staggering debt and lack of control. If suicide is on someone’s mind, they should consider inpatient treatment for their own safety.

Gambling Addiction Treatment

Getting the right gambling addiction help means knowing every possible option. A combination of the following addiction treatments might be right for those seeking help for their disordered gambling.

Inpatient Treatment

When searching for gambling addiction rehab, inpatient treatment is the best bet. Most inpatient treatments last about a month and provide 24/7 care and structure. Since there’s only a psychological dependence on gambling, the detox phase isn’t necessary.

A residential rehab center means moving into a facility to access medical staff and therapy. Patients attend group and individual therapy and learn coping skills. Inpatient treatment is a beneficial option for those who need a little extra help!

Outpatient Treatment

For some, inpatient treatment isn’t realistic. They might not be able to take time off work or leave their families. Outpatient treatment might be the better option for this group of people because it minimizes disruptions.

Outpatient treatment means attending classes and workshops every week. It also requires individual and group therapy classes. Outpatient treatment is best for those with mild to moderate addictions.


There’s no magic pill to cure gambling addiction. Doctors often prescribe medication for underlying or co-occurring behavioral health disorders. For example, ADHD or Bipolar Disorder can cause impulse control, which is treated with medicine.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most effective therapies for disordered gambling is CBT. This type of therapy creates a connection between emotions, thinking, and actions. It targets maladaptive thoughts and triggers, replacing them with healthy coping skills.

Studies on the effectiveness of CBT for disordered gambling have shown positive results. Although the numbers may differ, most patients were able to reduce the severity and frequency of gambling through CBT. They were also able to learn how to deal with urges, identify triggers, and prevent relapse.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a client-centered approach created to encourage positive change. It’s geared toward those who have doubts about changing their behavior. This type of therapy might be optimal if they love gambling but know that it’s impacting their life.

Most studies find this treatment to be effective for mild problem gambling. One study found that motivational interviewing had a significant impact up to one-year post-treatment. For long-term change, consider combining this therapy with a 12-step program.

12-Step Programs

12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are famous for inspiring change and breaking habits. Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is a country-wide network of support groups. It’s an effective tool post-rehab for preventing relapse and finding social support.

Lifestyle Changes

Changing the environment and habits can help with a gambling addiction. Lifestyle changes can also dramatically decrease the risk of relapse. Try these lifestyle tips:

At the same time, know that relapses can happen, but it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes a little extra boost of help is needed, and that’s where inpatient treatment comes in. Inpatient rehab removes distractions, temptations, and chances to fall back into old habits.

Recovering From a Gambling Addiction

The outlook for disordered gambling is positive with proper treatment. Through therapy, lifestyle changes, and support groups, most gamblers are able to quit.

And with hard work and a solid plan, former gamblers can:

It might take more or less time, depending on the severity of the addiction. But having an addiction now doesn’t mean dealing with it forever!

Get Help Today!

Gambling addiction becomes an issue when it starts affecting someone’s daily life. If they find that they’re losing friends, money, and interest in hobbies, they might have a disordered gambling problem.

The good news is that gambling addicts can recover with proper resources and treatment. The first step is admitting that there’s a problem and finding help.

Don’t gamble away your future! Take control of life by getting help for a gambling addiction. Contact New Method Wellness today to break free.

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Clinically Reviewed By:

Deanna J. Crosby, M.A., LMFT, LAADC, Psy.D. (C)

Deanna Crosby is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with over 20 years of experience working with clients in recovery. Her expertise has catapulted her into the spotlight. Featured on several episodes of the Dr. Phil Show as a behavioral health expert, DeAnna is a routine contributor for NBC News, The Huffington Post, Elle Magazine, MSN, Fox News, Yahoo, Glamour, Today, and several other prominent media outlets. 

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of California in Irvine, Crosby did postgraduate work at Centaur University where she graduated at the top of her class with a CAADAC certification in Centaur’s chemical dependency program. Following her time at Centaur, Crosby received her Master of Counseling Psychology degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she also attained a Doctoral Degree in Depth Psychology.

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From all of us at New Method Wellness co-occurring treatment center, we wish you peace and serenity in knowing that you or your loved one will get the necessary help.


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