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More About Gambling Addiction
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Have you ever picked up a scratcher from the gas station and felt some excitement as you used a coin to scrape away at the card? Do you rush out to hat about a trip to the casino to try your hand at the slots? Maybe a poker night with friends or some casual bets on this week’s games are more your speed. Read more about gambling addiction.
An estimated 85 percent of Americans have gambled at least once in their lives. 60 percent have gambled in some way during the last year. Plenty of people can place a bet or two and leave it at that whether they win or not.
Problems arise for the people who cannot stop purchasing lotto tickets or placing bets. It doesn’t matter how much they win or lose; they’ll gamble until they have no more money left to put down. These individuals struggle with gambling addiction, a compulsive problem that mirrors the battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
What exactly is problem gambling and how do you know if you should be concerned about you or someone you love? How does someone develop an addiction to gambling and what can they do to address it? Continue reading to learn more about gambling addiction.
What is Gambling Addiction: A Definition
Gambling addiction describes recurring and progressive problem gambling behavior that leads to impairment or distress. Before the current diagnosis in the Fifth Edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the condition had no official clinical recognition. It was originally classified as pathological gambling and an impulse control disorder.
Problem gambling caused clinically significant symptoms, though, which prompted clinicians to look further into the condition. They noticed the issues seen in patients with pathological gambling behaviors were similar to those who dealt with drug and alcohol addiction.
Updates to the DSM-5 brought changes to the classification of gambling addiction. The DSM-5 renamed the diagnosis to gambling disorder and reclassified it as a substance-related and addictive disorder. It also changed the criteria required to meet conditions for the diagnosis.
Today an estimated 2 million people in the United States battle active, clinically significant gambling addiction. An additional 2 to 3 percent of people have problems caused by their gambling behaviors but they do not meet the qualifications for gambling disorder.
Where does the line between problematic gambling and gambling disorder lie?
When Gambling Becomes an Addiction
At the beginning of the 2000s, problem gambling behaviors were viewed as a bad habit but not an addiction or disorder. Clinicians didn’t see compulsive gambling as equivalent to other conditions like drug addiction and alcoholism.
The understanding of compulsive gambling has shifted over the last 20 years, though. Psychologists, counselors, and doctors agree that some cases of pathological gambling are more akin to addiction than they initially thought.
The DSM-5 outlines nine criteria displayed by individuals with problematic gambling behaviors. An individual must show at least four of the following behaviors in the past 12 months:
- Recurring or constant preoccupation with gambling, including reliving previous gambling experiences, planning out the next experience, or thinking of ways to get money to gamble
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to reach the desired level of excitement
- Attempting but failing to control, cut back, or stop gambling
- Feeling irritable and restless when trying to control, cut back on, or stop gambling
- Turning to gambling when feeling helpless, guilty, anxious, or depressed
- Losing money one day then returning another day to break even (“chasing” losses)
- Lying to family members, friends, therapist, or others to hide the extent of their gambling
- Risking relationships, employment, educational or career opportunities as a result of gambling
- Relying on money from others to escape financial problems that result from gambling
Additionally, any problematic gambling behaviors cannot be explained by a manic episode that is caused by another disorder.
How Gambling Addiction Starts
Like other addictions, no one starts gambling thinking they will develop an addiction to gambling. It starts innocent enough with a trip to Las Vegas or a few entertaining rounds of online poker. Gambling Most people play for fun in beginning, the excitement of the win keeping them playing for a few rounds.
When someone wins a bet, whether it’s a single hand or the entire pool, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. This chemical is a key aspect of the brain’s reward system and provides a feeling of satisfaction upon release.
Gambling addiction starts when people start chasing the dopamine release that happens when they win. They stop playing for fun and now play to feel the satisfaction and euphoria of bets that turn out in their favor. It’s not about gambling anymore; it’s about the “high” they feel from winning.
One thing to keep in mind as you learn about gambling addiction is that not all people who struggle with their gambling are the same. Although gambling addiction tends to get worse over time, some don’t progress as far as others do. There’s no way to determine how bad a person’s problem will become once it starts, though.
How Gambling Addiction Works
Most clinicians thought gambling addiction was a compulsion problem, not an addiction problem. Both compulsive and addictive behaviors relieve a person’s anxiety. But addictions are characterized by the inability to stop acting out on harmful behaviors despite the negative consequences that happen as a result.
Gambling addiction differs from compulsive behaviors because these individuals aren’t simply gambling to feel better. Although it might start as a fun or enjoyable activity, every gambling addict crosses the line at some point. Problems arise as their losses take over and their wins become fewer and further between.
These individuals put everything on the line to feel the rush of another win. They’ll drain their bank accounts, open credit cards, borrow from friends and family, take equity out on their home. Significant relationships, employment, and reputation all come after the rush.
The American Psychological Association categorized gambling addiction with drug and alcohol addiction once they realized how similar the two conditions are. People who are addicted to gambling display much of the same behaviors as those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. The excitement of the win becomes the guiding force in the lives of gambling addicts.
Gambling Curiosities and Facts
When people think of gambling, the bright, flashy casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City are often the first thing to come to mind. Gambling addiction doesn’t only live inside casinos, though. There are many different types of betting activities that can result in problematic gambling behaviors. These include things like:
- Card games (Poker, Blackjack)
- Slot machines
- Sports or race betting
- Lottery tickets
- Bets with friends
This doesn’t mean someone who enjoys playing cards with friends or betting on a game during the weekend is automatically a gambling addict. There is a big difference between casual betting and full-blown gambling addiction.
Celebrities Who Have Gambling Addiction
Growing numbers of celebrities have come forward about their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, but gambling addiction as well. It’s further proof that addiction affects anyone regardless of age, gender, status, or more. The following are a few celebrities who have a gambling addiction.
Charles Barkley, a former NBA player, has had a very public struggle with his gambling addiction. He speaks openly about his problems with gambling and sports betting specifically. Barkley estimates that he’s lost upwards of $30 million while chasing his wins in Las Vegas.
Among his numerous other escapades, Charlie Sheen reportedly had an extensive stint with sports betting as well. In 2006, his ex-wife Denise Richards alleged he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars while betting on sports every day.
Ben Affleck played cards with the best of them while at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas but didn’t have much luck in his games. He reportedly hosted a regular poker game for Hollywood’s elite at the Grand Havana Hotel in Beverly Hills. During this time, Affleck supposedly lost multiple thousands in the games he was hosting.
Gladys Knight avoided the drugs and alcohol plaguing her fellow musical stars in the 1970s but gambling addiction brought her to her knees. She bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time on sports games throughout the 70s and 80s. One day, Knight reported putting a stop to it when she woke up and realized how out of control it was.
Gambling Addiction in the US
Las Vegas is notorious for its flashy casinos along the strip, luring in millions to try their hand throughout the year. Atlantic City offers the East Coast equivalent with plenty of casinos to keep those on the opposite coast coming in for more. Additionally, there is some form of legal gambling in every state except for Hawaii and Utah.
According to Statista, the gambling industry in the United States contributes more than 137 billion dollars to the economy each year. Four out of five adults in America have gambled at least once in their lives. About 2 million adults report a gambling addiction. Additionally, an estimated 20 million have a problem that gets in the way of their work or social life.
What Causes Gambling Addiction?
Not everyone who likes to play cards places bets with friends on sports games, or even regularly stops by the casino develops a gambling addiction. The majority of people who gamble do so responsibly. They’re able to enjoy the times they win and walk away once they lose. They have a set amount they’re willing to spend and stop once they reach it.
Then others who cross the line from casual or even regular gambling into problem behaviors. They start chasing their losses, borrowing money they can’t pay back, and spending most of their time thinking about when they can gamble next.
What causes gambling addiction, though? Why can some people control their betting and quit when they’re down while others will bet themselves into debt? Is there something that separates these individuals from their more responsible counterparts?
Is Gambling Addiction A Mental Illness?
Gambling addiction is classified as a mental health disorder, similar to drug or alcohol use disorder. Problem gambling is oftentimes a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse as time goes on. People tend to place riskier bets or stake higher claims to achieve the desired rush they’re looking for.
It’s difficult to know right away whether someone will shift from gambling for fun into gambling addiction. There isn’t one single factor to point to that causes people to lose control of their gambling. Current research suggests that a combination of factors contribute to a person developing disordered gambling behaviors.
Is Gambling In the DSM?
The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. It contains standardized criteria and categories for all mental disorders to guide clinicians when diagnosis patients.
Gambling addiction is included as an official diagnosis in the latest version of the DSM. It’s recognized as a problematic condition that is progressive. Including problematic gambling in the DSM is an important step toward ensuring those who need help receive it, whether through treatment or other means.
When was Gambling Addiction Added to the DSM?
Problem gambling disorders were first included in the Fourth Edition of the DSM. Clinicians recognized the difficulties that gambling could cause for an individual but didn’t understand the addictive nature of the condition. It referred to the condition as “pathological gambling” and qualified it as an impulse-control disorder, not as an addictive disorder.
Medical professionals considered gambling addiction as a compulsive problem rather than an actual addiction. Clinicians recognized the difficulties that gambling could cause for an individual but didn’t understand the addictive nature of the condition. They believed people used it to relieve anxiety but didn’t realize the pleasure-chasing aspect of addiction.
The 5th Edition of the DSM, DSM-5, changed the name and classification of gambling addiction. Now gambling addiction is officially called a gambling disorder and is classified as a substance-related and addictive disorder.
These changes reflect the results of further research and a deeper understanding of problematic gambling. They help clinicians make more informed decisions when diagnosing the individuals they work with.
Is Gambling Addiction Genetic?
Current research shows that gambling addiction, like drug and alcohol addiction, is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There isn’t one specific cause to point to as being responsible for problematic gambling behaviors.
In terms of genetics, certain people have a genetic predisposition for addictive tendencies, such as impulsive behavior and reward-seeking. Some research also suggests that individuals who struggle with addiction have naturally underactive reward circuitry in their brains. People with these predispositions are more at risk for developing a gambling addiction.
Biological factors like pre-existing mental disorders, such as mood disorders, antisocial personality disorder, or schizophrenia put people more at risk of problematic gambling. Naturally low levels of serotonin also lead people to seek out thrilling activities and gambling could be one they turn to.
Environmental aspects of gambling addiction include a wide variety of possibilities. Individuals who win a large sum of money when they first start gambling are more likely to chase that first win. People with money problems, who are lonely, or recently lost a job or had a divorce may also turn to problem gambling behaviors. Living near casinos puts people at risk, too.