Many people might not consider gambling addiction to be as serious as alcohol or drug addiction as there is not a chemical substance involved. But gambling addiction is a serious problem that has a significant impact on people’s lives; it can be just as difficult to recover from as a substance addiction.

How Common Is Gambling Addiction?

It is estimated that there are more than half-a-million people in the UK with a genuine problem with gambling. Moreover, with the growing market of internet gambling, it is becoming ever easier for individuals to have access to gambling. With most people now owning a smartphone, those who want to gamble can now do so anywhere and at any time.

Statistics say that in 2016 alone, bets were made totalling thirteen billion pounds using smartphones, and this is expected to rise to up to sixty billion pounds by the end of 2018.

What Effects Can Gambling Addiction Have?

The most obvious impact of a gambling addiction is on a person’s finances. Compulsive gamblers will spend money – that should be used for life’s necessities, such as for food, bills or rent – on their gambling addiction without considering the long-term consequences, often convinced that they will win on the next bet. This is not a new phenomenon, and there is documentary evidence of wealthy noblemen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gambling away their entire family fortune on card games and horse races, always certain that the next race or the next game would win back their losses, and more. Compulsive gamblers will often also borrow money to fund their addiction, ending up in debt.

Many gambling addicts also become quite isolated due to the time spent on their addiction. Compulsive gamblers will begrudge spending their leisure time on anything other than gambling, leading them to cancel or avoid social engagements and spend little time with friends or family. Understandably, this leads to strained relationships, as partners may feel that the gambler does not care about them, or that they are not important enough to spend time with. Further tension can arise over arguments about the household budget, particularly if bills are not being paid due to the money being spent on gambling.

A gambling addiction can also have an adverse effect on a person’s mental health. Those who suffer from a gambling addiction frequently suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, and they may also succumb to other addictions alongside their gambling problem. While it is not unusual for someone to begin gambling to try to escape their anxiety or depression, compulsive gambling will actually make these problems worse. The oscillating highs and lows, highs when anticipating a win or placing a bet, and crashing lows and despair after losing, have a substantial impact on mental health. The repeated engagement of the brain’s reward pathways in this way can actually lead to permanent changes in the brain. Fortunately, with the right help, the brain can return to normal again.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Gambling?

The addiction to gambling occurs, in most cases, for the same reason as the addiction to alcohol, or drugs. The action of placing bets, anticipating winning, and particularly winning itself, triggers the reward pathways in the pleasure centre of the brain. Once triggered, a person will seek to gain the same reward by repeating the action that first triggered it; this cycle repeats until eventually, the person becomes addicted.

A recent study in Japan has suggested that, for some gambling addicts at least, there may be differences in the brains that make them unable to determine risk. The study looked at twenty-one adult men who were undergoing treatment, and twenty-nine men who did not have a gambling addiction. They then conducted a game-based experiment where participants chose between a high-risk high reward or low-risk low reward game. They had to achieve set numbers of points to progress through the game, adjusting their risk strategy depending on the number of points required to progress. The study showed that the participants with a gambling addiction were significantly more likely to choose the high-risk games than those without a gambling problem. MRI scans revealed that those addicts who did take unnecessary risks presented less activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, suggesting that their brains were actually functioning in a different way.

What Help Is Available for Gambling Addicts?

Like any other addiction, those suffering from a gambling addiction need help to understand and overcome their addiction.

At Liberty House, we have trained therapists who can help you to overcome your addiction and make a full recovery. We tailor our treatment programme to you as an individual and use several specialised therapies to help you through your problem. If you would like more information on the services we can offer, then please call us today.


(NHS) Gambling addiction

(Japan Times) Brain disorder cause of gambling addiction, study shows