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Gambling and Addiction: What is The Connection?

Gambling is one of the most well-known of the many behavioral addictions that exist. In fact, beyond mind-altering substances, gambling addiction is among the most common behavioral addictions, affecting a minimum of two to three percent of American adults with as many as 15 percent of American adults exhibiting early signs of eventual compulsive gambling.

But are there similarities between gambling addiction and forms of substance use disorder? If similarities exist, what does this mean? And can these two forms of addiction be treated?

Many people assume that the term “addiction” refers solely to mind-altering substances like alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers, and other addictive drugs. More often than not, they fail to realize that intoxicating drugs and alcohol aren’t the only things that are addictive. In fact, there are a wide variety of behaviors that are known to be highly addictive. Often referred to as behavioral addictions, these forms of addiction can be just as destructive and dangerous as alcoholism or heroin addiction.

Gambling addiction is one of the many behavioral addictions that have become quite common over the years. Also known as compulsive gambling, problem gambling, and gambling disorder, gambling addiction is characterized as an impulse-control disorder. This means that a person with a gambling addiction suffers from a compulsive, uncontrollable behavior, which is, in the present case, gambling.

By definition, gambling is an activity wherein people play a particular type of game that involves placing bets in the hope of winning a prize, which is usually money but can also be some type of valuable product or service. While this may sound relatively innocuous in theory, there’s actually a large degree of risk involved in gambling. Whereas many non-gambling games often require a level of skill and experience to win, winning in gambling is often a matter of chance. Similar to randomly picking a single card from a deck, there’s a very small chance of choosing any one particular card; with gambling, the chance of winning is akin to the chance of predicting which card you’d pull from the deck before you actually pull it.

Understandably, there’s a level of thrill involved in gambling. Particular with individuals who believe they have found a pattern or technique that gives them elevated chances of winning, the experience of gambling is quite similar to consuming alcohol or drugs: It raises the adrenaline and causing a surge of pleasurable neurochemicals and endorphins, making the individual feel good due to the thrill of gambling and the very infrequent wins. A person who’s addicted to gambling has followed much the same pattern as with substance-based forms of addiction; having found the experience pleasurable, he or she begins to gamble with increasing frequency until he or she begins to experience negative or adverse effects when he or she tries to go a period of time without gambling.

As mentioned above, the physiological effects of gambling are quite similar to the physiological effects of abusing alcohol, heroin, or prescription drugs. Especially when a person wins at a gambling game, the intense happiness and pleasure becomes a feeling that he or she wants to experience again. With increased frequency of gambling, the brain becomes accustomed to the elevated neuro-chemical levels in virtually the same way as the brain becomes accustomed to elevated neuro-chemical levels from chronic alcohol or drug abuse.

Having been gambling frequently over an extended period of time, the individual will begin to experience adverse (or negative) effects when he or she goes even a moderate period of time without gambling. Similar to the withdrawal symptoms that individuals addicted to alcohol or drugs experience, a person addicted to gambling will feel extremely sad and depressed. At a certain point, the individual will find it difficult to feel happy or pleasurable naturally when he or she isn’t gambling or placing bets.

Much like alcoholism or drug addiction, there are a number of signs and symptoms of gambling addiction for which loved ones can look. However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of people who gamble compulsively realize that their family members and friends would be concerned if they’re gambling too frequently; therefore, they often become quite skilled at keeping their compulsive gambling behavior a secret from their family members.

One of the hallmark signs of gambling addiction is a frequent preoccupation with gambling. In other words, someone with a gambling problem will frequently talk about gambling, working the subject of gambling and placing bets into even the most unrelated conversations. Additionally, someone addicted to gambling might frequent suggest gambling as part of group activities, which would be an opportunity to justify his or her gambling since other members of a group would be participating.

Perhaps most telling of gambling addiction are the secondary effects of compulsive gambling. No matter how many limits a person imposes on himself or herself when it comes to gambling, compulsive gambling will inevitably have profound effects on a person’s life. In particular, compulsive gambling causes major financial hardship that could make it quite difficult — or even impossible — for the individual to pay his or her bills and sustain himself or herself. At a certain point, someone with a gambling addiction will likely go to family members and friends for financial assistance; however, the individual will find it increasingly difficult to refrain from using the money that’s been provided or loaned by loved ones to gamble.

Considering that there are so many similarities between gambling and substance abuse from a neurological perspective, it should come as no surprise that there have been numerous people to suffer from both gambling addictions and some form of substance use disorder. As mentioned above, both types of addiction have similar effects on the brain, triggering floods of neurochemicals that are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness.

However, it’s for this very reason that it’s very easy for individuals suffering from one of these two forms of addiction to develop the other. While neither could be definitively identified as a direct cause of the other, the reality is that people who suffer from one type of addiction already have the neurological basis for virtually any type of addiction as most addictions involve many of the same areas of the brain. So while gambling addiction isn’t a direct cause of alcoholism or drug addiction (and vice versa), a person addicted to gambling could easily replace that addiction with alcohol or drugs.

Fortunately, both gambling addiction and substance use disorder can be treated. By enrolling in a high-quality treatment program such as those offered at Just Believe Recovery in Port Saint Lucie, FL, recovery is both accessible and attainable. Whether you’re exploring treatment options for yourself or for a loved one, you can learn more about how we treat gambling addiction, alcoholism, and drug addiction by calling Just Believe Recovery today at 877-978-1208

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