Compulsive gamblers can lose and win thousands of dollars within a matter of days, or even hours, because they are unable to stop. The euphoric rush that accompanies a win can be so exhilarating that gamblers begin to crave that euphoria. When gamblers lose, the emotional crash of a loss requires a quick fix to regain that high. The inability to stop gambling, in spite of the negative consequences to one’s life, is known as gambling addiction, problem gambling, or compulsive gambling.
The loss of large amounts of money can be devastating to problem gamblers. They may fall into a severe depression, which may lead to suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behavior, or attempted suicide. In order to alleviate feelings of depression and despair, gamblers may use this addictive process as a way to escape or to fix their problems. Gambling thus becomes a cycle in which the elation or depression that follow an episode lead to greater risk-taking and higher bets.
In order to engage in compulsive gambling, the individual must have the opportunity to participate in betting activities and at least minimal resources or borrowed money in order to place bets. The arrival of online gambling, which requires only access to a personal computer and an internet connection, has eliminated the need to leave one’s home in order to gamble. According to a report from Rubin Brown Consultants, US revenue from gaming increased to $68.7 billion between 2013 and 2015, largely as a result of the popularity of online gaming and limited stakes gaming, or the slot machines available in public venues.
Pathologic gambling frequently co-occurs with alcoholism or drug abuse. Free alcoholic beverages are often available at casinos, where drinking is encouraged in order to release inhibitions against spending money. Alcohol or drugs may be used to celebrate a win, to console oneself for a loss, or to mentally escape from the shame and guilt associated with gambling. In addition, the same neurochemical factors that make some individuals vulnerable to gambling addiction may predispose them to substance abuse.Having a predisposition toward compulsive gambling seems to go hand in hand with a tendency toward other forms of addictive behavior, including drug addiction or alcoholism. Problem gambling also coexists frequently with forms of mental illness, such as personality disorders, anxiety, or depression.
Although gambling addiction is a serious, potentially dangerous disorder, it can be treated with a combination of therapeutic modalities, recovery resources, and supportive psychosocial services. These therapies and services are available through professional treatment programs that specialize in addressing compulsive gambling, with or without a co-occurring substance use disorder. Treatment may take place at an inpatient facility, where 24-hour supervision and support are provided, or at an outpatient rehab program, which offers greater autonomy and flexibility to clients.