In the U.S., gambling addiction grips about 8 million people. A dark statistic when you consider that gambling addiction can lead to compromised or damaged personal and family relationships and career pursuits and often leads to legal issues.

Gambling addiction treatment is a bright light at the end of this tunnel of despair, deceit and pain.

What is Gambling Addiction?
The National Council on Problem Gambling says "'problem gambling' includes "Pathological", or "Compulsive" Gambling, a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, "chasing" losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences."

Results of Gambling Addiction
The National Gambling Impact Study found the following results of gambling addiction:

  • Job loss, unemployment
  • Debt, bankruptcy
  • Embezzlement, fraud, check forgery
  • Eviction, forced home sales
  • Crime, arrest, incarceration
  • Poor physical and mental health, suicide
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

Do I Have a Gambling Problem?
Take the Gamblers Anonymous 20-question yes/no test, "Are you a compulsive gambler?"Some of the questions include:

  • Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  • Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  • Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
  • After losing, did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  • Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  • Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties? 

The National Council on Problem Gambling has a handful of gambling screening tools on their site here. These tools are not conclusive. You still need to see a professional trained in gambling addiction treatment or compulsive behavior.

Gambling Addiction Treatment: Questions to Ask
The National Council on Problem Gambling lists these questions to ask when considering a treatment center.

  • What percentage of their patients are gambling addicts?
  • Is the staff experienced and/or trained in treating problem gamblers?
  • What meetings and/or classes specifically address gambling?
  • Does the program offer comprehensive treatment needs such as dual diagnosis treatment, financial and money management, social, vocational, legal and spiritual therapy. How many hours per day are dedicated to gambling specific treatment or education? What are the groups or educational topics that address the specific needs of problem gamblers and their families?
  • Does the program accept your insurance? What payment plans are offered?
  • What kind of post-treatment care is offered?
  • How do they assess an individual's success in treatment?
  • Is medication offered as part of the treatment?
  • Is family encouraged to play an active part in treatment?

As for specific expertise, look for a gambling addiction treatment center that has a Certified Gambling Counselor on staff. This person would be certified by:

  • The National Gambling Counselor Certification Board (NCGC), American Gambling Counselor Certification Board (CCGC), or American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders (CAS).
  • Other certification can be state specific where the individual takes 30 hours of training in problem gambling

Treatment Approaches
Treatment for gambling addiction involves a handful of approaches that are similar to those for other addictions and disorders including psychotherapy, group therapy, anonymous groups, and medication, and even self-help.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for gambling addiction treatment. Everyone responds differently to different approaches.

Psychotherapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) where a counselor identifies and attempts to change the beliefs of gambling addicts. These beliefs can be "an eventual big win, being unrealistically lucky, superstitious behavior, as well as selective and distorted memory,"according to a Massachusetts study, "Practice Guidelines for Treating Gambling-Related Problems."

Other behaviors that are indentified and treated are the "illusion of control"over the outcomes, and the illusion of ‘omnipotent skills' "necessary to beat the odds."Perhaps the biggest distortion for addicted gamblers is the "Gambler's Fallacy", the "belief that they can predict future randomly determined gambling outcomes based on their observations and analysis of past random gambling events.”

Additional CBT therapy consists of:

  • role play (e.g., practicing refusal skills)
  • imaging (e.g., anticipating an effective coping sequence, re-experiencing a disastrous gambling event and creating a more acceptable outcome)
  • goal setting (e.g., deciding limits on gambling occasions, time & amount of money spent)
  • psycho-education (e.g., learning the signs and symptoms of problem and pathological gambling)
  • impulse management (e.g., controlling urges to gamble)
  • self-monitoring (e.g., money and time spent gambling)."

Gamblers' Anonymous is a group with a similar foundation to Alcoholics Anonymous where participants engage in group topics, learning from and supporting one another.

Medications helpful in treatment include mood stabilizers like lithium and medications used in addictions such as naltrexone and antidepressants such as clomipramine and fluvoxamine.  

One self-help approach is a series of daily steps for dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder called the Four Steps. The steps are:

  • Re-label: recognize and re-label a thought or urge as an obsession or compulsion.
  • Reattribute: "'It's not me--it's my OCD.' That is our battle cry. It is a reminder that OCD thoughts and urges are not meaningful, that they are false messages from the brain.”
  • Refocus: "work around the OCD thoughts and urges by shifting attention to something else, if only for a few minutes.”
  • Revalue: "Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It is not significant in itself.”

Summary

The damage done by a gambling addict cuts deep and filters into every aspect of life. Gambling addiction treatment, whether it's professional counseling, anonymous support or self-help, should be the goal of every addict. To find treatment centers near you, search recoverycorps.org's database.