When we start to examine addiction and how it takes its hold on our society, we must be weary not to limit ourselves to the scope of just drugs and alcohol. In fact, recent phycological studies have shown that there are several similarities to chemical dependency and outside issues such as gambling. Understanding how they exhibit similar negative behaviors and damaging consequences, lets us know that we can indeed employ common solutions to help those who suffer from a gambling problem find recovery.
Before we grasp a firm understanding of gambling as an addiction, we have to consider that there are essentially two forms of gambling problems; problem gambling and pathological gambling. Problem gambling is when the desire to gamble is very strong despite past negative consequences. This is also sometimes referred to as “compulsive gambling.” We would view it just as we would view someone who would be within the “problem using” or “problem drinking” stage of their drug or alcohol use, often times called the contemplation stage.
However, people who would fall under the pathological gambling category are dealing with a far more severe problem, often times in need of a more clinical approach. Pathological gambling, much like chemical dependency, exhibits every common symptom ranging from preoccupation with thoughts of gambling or finding ways of gambling, past efforts to stop gambling but unable to, giving up social responsibilities or professional obligations to actively gamble or seek means to gamble with and even express signs of irritability and distress from not gambling much like withdrawals.
Unlike substances such as alcohol and drugs, pathological gambling often becomes habit forming almost immediately, typically referred to as “swiftness.” This primarily has to do with the environment one finds themselves engaging in gambling, namely casinos. The high intensity and the urgency stressed in the atmosphere makes one more susceptible to have urgency stressed onto their use, and therefore quick acting. Compare that with, let us say a bar, where the drinker may frequent the establish two or three times a week at the start and then gradually starts frequenting the establishment every night. Pathological gambling is also more insidious than most use of drugs and alcohol, essentially because the behaviors and actions of an intoxicated person are more quickly recognized than someone with a gambling issue. It also makes the loved ones realize that their addict needs help sooner. Usually it is not until financial ramifications start becoming present in a person’s personal or family life do they realize there is a problem.
Gambling addiction is a disease exactly like any other addiction. And just like with any other addiction, it is important for us to realize that there is a solution. By examination of behaviors and consequences, the gambling addict can be susceptible to a clinical approach and therefore can find recovery, just like any other addict. However, just like with any other addiction, they have to want to get help. They have to understand their actions are hurting themselves and the ones they love the most. Before they reach that point, and commit to getting some help, the healing cannot begin. In turn, they have to realize that there are people in their life to encourage them with love and support to finding freedom from their gambling addiction.
-J. Dalton Williams