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Understanding gambling addiction

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Editor's note: The spring issue of Renew (coming soon!) will deal with process addictions, including gambling addiction. If this topic interests you, be sure to check back soon!

When we hear the word “addiction” we tend to associate things like alcohol, illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, and some prescription drugs. Most of us, including a number of professionals, often forget about the addictive qualities of gambling, or the addiction to winning.

Like drugs and alcohol, some people can manage to gamble in moderation. For example, they might play their local lottery every once in a while when the jackpot is high. Then there is the select group, just like with drinkers, who cannot seem to maintain the same control. It is hard to say how many gamblers fall into this group. Unfortunately we have not had the same funding for large scale surveys on gambling, as we have with drugs and alcohol. Even more unknown are the effects that it can have on loved ones.

Despite the fact that millions of Americans struggle with gambling, professionals have been slow to acknowledge gambling addiction as a psychological disorder. It could be the fact that gambling does not cause the same physical effects on the body as drugs and alcohol, but this overlooks the emotional and financial effects it can have on those addicted and their loved ones.  Whatever the reason, we are beginning to see a shift in how we think about and treat gambling addiction. The first major step happened in 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association first recognized it as a diagnosable disorder.

Although professionals have been slow to acknowledge gambling addiction, attention has finally been given to some of the common warning signs. These include:

·      Finding it difficult to control a person’s gambling.

·      Being secretive about gambling, especially with family and friends.

·      Gambling your last dollar or even when low on money.

·      Having family and friends express concern.

Recovery from a gambling addiction requires more than just abstinence. It involves physical, emotional, and spiritual changes. Physically, the gambler has to stop gambling. The phrase “one day at a time” is helpful in remembering to focus only on making it through the next 24 hours. Sometimes even “one hour at a time” or “one minute at a time” is necessary.

Emotionally, the gambler has to deal with the underlying issues. Why did the person start gambling in the first place? Until there is an understanding of the function that it plays in the person’s life, it can be harmful to take away the one thing that has worked in the past. The gambler might be able to abstain for a little while, but just like the “dry drunk” is physically sober but remains spiritually sick, the “dry gambler” might pick up a new addiction along the way.

Spiritually, the gambler has to reconnect with others. Gambling disorders thrive in isolation, and true recovery requires moving away from the ego and toward connection, whether it is to a Higher Power or with others through community or a recovery program.

If you are looking for help for a gambling addiction for yourself or someone else, Gamblers Anonymous is a great place to begin the road to healing and connect with other people struggling with similar issues.

 

Related:

Gaining power by admitting powerlessness

Four questions for making tough decisions

The divinity within 

 

 
 

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