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With so many similarities to substance abuse disorders, a gambling disorder is non surprisingly treated in much the same way. Addiction, no matter whether it’s substance or non substance related, is chiefly a mental illness.

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Introduction to Gambling Addiction

Let’s get this out of the way immediately; gambling addiction is real.

It goes without saying that gambling itself is widespread and largely legal. How many of us have seen the Mega Millions go up to $500 million and tossed a few bucks down the drain to join in on the fun? 82% of adults have participated in gambling in their lifetime and 52% participated in lottery gambling in the past year.

Nonetheless, the prevailing attitude is that for an addiction to “count” it has to always be related to or involve substances. Be it drugs or alcohol, it’s that a person is hooked on the associated high or buzz. While that’s true in a way, addiction, like everything else in life, is more complex.

The stark reality of gambling addiction though is that mortality and suicide rates are significantly elevated among those who are dealing with it.

Defining drug addiction itself at this point helps, The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines it as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs.” 

The operative words here are “brain disorder” and “functional changes to the brain circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control”. With gambling, the same thing happens, the reward center of the brain is being stimulated, like a high or euphoria or buzz from drugs or alcohol. And that feeling is addictive.

You chase it.

Increasing the wagers.

Going into debt.

Engaging in riskier and riskier behavior in pursuit of the big win that’ll make everything right and let you finally get out of the game. But the big win never comes because there’s always a bigger one on the horizon and you’re hooked on the hunt for it.

Consider this, neuroimaging suggests that the brain regions involved in pathological gambling…are similar to the one involved in substance use disorders. Neurochemical studies have implicated alterations in the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine systems of pathological gamblers…suggesting increased release of dopamine in the brain”.

The Harvard Review of Psychiatry adds that “growing evidence suggests that these behaviors [non substance abuse related behaviors] warrant consideration as non substance or “behavioral” addictions and has led to the newly introduced diagnostic category “Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders” in DSM-5. At present, only gambling disorder has been placed in this category”.

Furthermore, and as per the peer-reviewed journal Addictive Behaviors, “on the basis of research demonstrating clinical, phenomenological, genetic, neurobiological and other similarities between gambling and substance-use disorders, a decision was made to group pathological gambling (now gambling disorder) with substance-related disorders in DSM-5.”

As various types of gambling, like sports betting recently, become legalized in more states and with accessibility right at our fingertips, readily available on our phones, the incidence of gambling disorder will only rise with it. The most severe type of gambling disorder affects between 1% and 3%, a similar rate to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 

To add insult to injury, or make something bad…worse, research shows that there is a particularly high co-occurrence between substance use and gambling with gambling disorders reported 2- to 10-times more often in those with drug or alcohol use issues. Additionally, high rates of substance abuse disorders have been found in people with gambling problems.

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Gambling Addiction

What Are the Signs of Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction isn’t your one-off bet on the big game, your errant lotto scratcher here and there or your weekend in Vegas. A gambling disorder, much like an addiction as you now know, is something that takes over your mind and, eventually, your life.

It’s an obsession.

Much like drug or alcohol abuse, there are clear symptoms of gambling addiction as well.

  • Putting more money on the line to get the same rush as before
  • Gambling with larger amounts to try to cover previous losses or gambling expressly to make back losses
  • Irritable and restless when attempting to cut back or quit
  • Inability to stop gambling even when making a sincere effort
  • Can’t stop thinking about gambling, reliving the past and planning for more gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or feelings of guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Lying to cover up gambling activity and losses
  • Borrowing money excessively to cover losses
  • Breaking the law in order to get money to gamble
  • Losing a job, relationships with friends and family, career and other opportunities because of gambling

Gambling Addiction Consequences

The consequences and costs of addiction to gambling are dramatic. What starts as a small itch to scratch, ends up reaching its tentacles into everything.

The worst case scenario is an addiction that has become so overwhelming, and put you in a place that’s so precarious, that it feels like the only solution or way out is by suicide. And as mentioned at the top, those with a gambling disorder are at a substantially increased risk of committing that final, desperate act.

As far as consequences though, the most obvious one is the accumulation of debt and the average addict owes between $40,000 and $70,000. Compound that with the all too common occurrence of gambling addicts losing their jobs and you have a problem that’s now multiplied.

You have no more income and your losses are piling up, so you panic and start to gamble on credit. You borrow. You leverage the equity in your house. You blow through savings. Whatever it takes to get back in the game. Even crime.

That leads to an ever growing financial strain that starts to affect your family and your relationships.

Those with gambling problems have a distinctly higher rate of divorce as well at 53.5%.

Gambling can directly trigger or worsen symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, obsessions, and personality disorders.

It can take everything from you and sometimes all in the matter of a single session.

Thrive Treatment's Gambling Addiction Rehab in Los Angeles Can Help

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With so many similarities to substance abuse disorders, a gambling disorder is non surprisingly treated in much the same way. Addiction, no matter whether it’s substance or non substance related, is chiefly a mental illness.

Plumbing the depths of your psyche, thoughts, experiences, etc. in order to find what caused you to fall down the abyss of gambling is actually what allows you to work your way out of it.

Gambling addiction treatment in Los Angeles, at our Santa Monica rehab center, is centered on just that. Through one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed therapist, individual and group therapy sessions, we work with you to bring to light whatever is at the core of your addiction to gambling.

Moreover, we know the importance of imparting you with the knowledge and know-how of how to get through triggering and difficult situations. Situations in which you might resort to gambling. Our mission is to give you the resources, thoughtful care and guidance to help you make a different choice in the future. To help you stay on the straight and narrow with recovery, we also have alumni programs and support programs to keep you progressing positively. Without gambling.

Stop gambling with your life and get in touch with us at Thrive Treatment. Let us help you start living again without the anchor of gambling pulling you down.

Gambling Addiction


What is A gambling addiction?

Many people gamble for fun and engage in things like fantasy football, friendly bets, scratch cards, etc. Las Vegas, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, is always swarming with tourists that travel far and wide to gamble. Gambling can go from fun to harmful when someone struggles with a gambling addiction. Gambling addictions can negatively affect all aspects of life including relationships, finances, behaviors, physical, mental and emotional health. Addiction in general can cause you to compromise your value system and do things you thought you’d never do. Individuals struggling with a gambling addiction can resort to extreme behaviors like gambling away their very own house. Gambling addiction, which is also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, or gambling disorder, is known as an impulse control disorder. Any substance or action like gambling, can be abused while still having some level of control over their lives but similar to other addictions, those addicted to gambling cannot control their urges to gamble. Whether someone gambles every day or infrequently, gambling becomes a problem as soon as it creates other problems. In order to be diagnosed with a gambling addiction, an individual must meet the criteria in the DSM and be diagnosed by a professional. The criteria listed in DSM includes:

How common is it and who struggles?

Gambling addictions are quite common and anyone can become victim to this addiction. In the U.S., about ten million people a year report that they have an addiction to gambling or show problem behaviors with gambling. Teenagers and young adults are the most vulnerable to developing a gambling addiction. Furthermore, men tend to gamble more and develop gambling addictions more often than women do. Gambling has become more accessible since technological advances and now most gambling occurs through lap tops and computers.

types of gambling addiction
What causes a gambling addiction?

There is no exact cause that is understood to lead to an addiction to gambling however, often times gambling addiction is associated with other disorders or mental illness. Like many other addictions, gambling addiction may result from a mixture of environmental, biological, and genetic factors. Certain risk factors can make individuals more vulnerable to developing a gambling addiction. Risk factors include: mental health disorders like substance abuse disorder, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, and ADHD, age, sex, societal influence, medications that cause side effects like compulsiveness, and certain personality characteristics like someone who is extremely competitive. Things like retirement, job stress, loneliness, and negative environments can also lead someone to escape by gambling.

Warning signs:

There are many symptoms that indicate someone has a gambling problem. Receiving calls from debt collectors is a huge one. Other signs include borrowing money from others to gamble, losing valuables from gambling, irritability and obsessing over gambling, bragging about wins, isolation, being constantly on an electronic device, and relationship problems.



There is no set cure for a gambling addiction but treatment is very possible! Those with a gambling addiction can recover with the help from therapy, medication and self-help groups. CBT is usually the most successful form of therapy used when treating a gambling addiction. Medications like mood stabilizers and anti-depressants are also helpful. Social support like self-help groups are also encouraged for those struggling with a gambling addiction. If you know someone struggling with a gambling addiction you can find resources at :

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