In recent years there has been much concern over the explosive growth of gambling in North America. It is estimated that 1% of American adults, or two million people, could accurately be classified as pathological gamblers in any given year. A further 2-3% or four to eight million are problem gamblers, who share some of the behaviours of the more severely afflicted, but are not yet, as seriously affected.
Pathological gambling is a mental disorder characterized by compulsive gambling to such an extent that it has a serious negative on one’s job, relationships, and other important aspects of life. The compulsive gambler may lose his savings, lie, steal, embezzle or commit fraud to get money to support his habit.
Opportunities for legalized gambling are everywhere today: casinos, lotteries, Internet gaming, horse or dog racing, even bingo. Dedicated gamblers will bet on just about anything: the winners of sports events, elections, even the weather on a certain day.
Studies suggest that individuals exhibiting the character trait of impulsivity are more at risk of becoming pathological gamblers. There may be a genetic factor which predisposes a person to impulsivity.
An individual who is drug or alcohol dependency is from 13-33% more likely to be a compulsive gambler than the average person, suggesting that there might be a link between the two.
Other risk factors that have been suggested are episodes of depression, a family pattern of gambling addiction, and a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in childhood.
The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” specifies that a pathological gambler must have at least five of these symptoms:
* thinks about gambling all the time
* uses larger and larger amounts of money when gambling
* Has tried to stop gambling but failed
* is moody or cranky when trying to stop gambling
* lies about the extent of gambling
* keeps gambling to recover money that has previously been lost
* Has tried to make money for gambling by engaging in illegal or immoral behavior
* has problems at work or home caused by gambling
* relies on other people to get him or her out of financial problems caused by gambling.
Treatment must begin with the person admitting that a gambling problem exists. Denial is common with compulsive gamblers.
Individual therapy has been found to be helpful. The therapist may teach relaxation techniques to help the patient control his compulsion to gamble. Sometimes family therapy is also indicated.
Treatment of other addictions or underlying psychological disorders should also be addressed.
Support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous have been found to be effective as long as the gambler continues to attend meetings. However, only 8% of members remain completely away from all gambling activities.
Medications such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants are helpful for some people.
Often a combination of the above treatments is the most effective. The gambling addict must understand that he will never again be able to gamble even socially. As well, he should avoid places, people and situations he frequented while he was gambling.
These may include but are not limited to alcohol and/or drug abuse, anxiety and/or depression, suicide attempts, heart attacks caused by stress or excitement, financial, legal and social problems such as job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, arrest or time in prison.
Like alcoholism and drug addiction, pathological gambling is a chronic disorder which will get worse without treatment. Even with treatment, it’s not unusual to have relapses from time to time.
However, with professional care, and support from family and friends, the victims of this affliction can overcome their illness and move forward to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Image is taken from Casinochap (thanks for allowing me to use it!).