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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gambling Addiction - Problem or Pathological?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Problem Gambling or Ludomania is the urge to gamble despite negative consequences and the desire to stop. 

Pathological Gambling, however, is a severe or extreme case of Problem Gambling that must meet certain criteria to be considered a clinical mental disorder or illness. 

But even then, it is considered by the APA to be an Impulse Control Disorder and not a true addiction. However, recent evidence discovered by the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (IIAR) indicates that Pathological Gambling is an addiction similar to a chemical addiction. Estimates are that .6% of the adult population has a problem with gambling.

There are 10 specific definitions included in the APA’s description of Pathological Gambling. They are preoccupation and frequent thoughts of gambling, tolerance to the “rush” received while gambling thus requiring bigger and higher risks or stakes, experiencing withdrawal, restlessness or irritability when denied gambling, considering the enjoyment of gambling to be an escape from problems, attempting to win back losses from gambling by gambling more, trying to hide gambling by lying about it, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling, breaking the law to support gambling habit, risking the loss of a relationship to continue gambling, and turning to family and friends to help with gambling debts and losses.

The evidence discovered at the IIAR showed that Pathological Gamblers have a lower level of nor-epinephrine in their brains than normal gamblers. Nor-epinephrine is a hormone that is secreted during times of stress, thrill or arousal. 

So Pathological Gamblers compensate for this lack of thrill by gambling more. Further studies were done at Harvard Medical School and it was discovered that when a Pathological Gambler received a monetary winning, his brain showed almost the same type of activation that a cocaine addict would when receiving a dose of cocaine.

With the increase in prevalence and ease of use in online gambling websites, the numbers of problematic gamblers are growing. Casinos are exciting places and many such resorts offer free hotel rooms and food bars to those who spend a significant amount of money trying to win. 

“High-rollers” as they are often called, often receive free bar drinks, shows, food and accommodations through a frequent gambler membership card. The enticement to enjoy these complimentary gifts come with a very high price. Many gamblers will lose their entire paycheck or even more on the betting tables. Even though they are aware that they cannot afford these losses, they can’t seem to stop themselves.

Being able to admit the problem is the first step in treating a gambling disorder. Recovering will not be easy, but it is possible. Some treatments for Pathological Gambling include professional therapy, counseling and support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. Many of these supports groups are free to join, although professional counseling can be expensive. 

In addition to this, medication has proved useful in treating the disorder, such as, Paroxetine and Nalmafene. Success rates average from 28%-32% for recovering Gambling Addicts according to the Oregon Department of Human Services. Another good resource is the National Council on Problem Gambling’s confidential hotline. The number for this service is 1-800-522-4700.


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