The Psychology Behind Gambling Addiction and Prevention

It’s a growing mental-health affliction, adversely affecting people of all ages and backgrounds and costing them colossal amounts of money, blighting their familial and work relationships, and even leaving them open to the jeopardy of prosecution; it can foreshadow depression or other mental disorders.

Gambling can lead to addiction because biologically it’s the result of under-activation of your reward system.

Biological factors

They’ve become particularly worried about the cultural effects and long-term consequences of gambling’s legitimisation and worsening accessibility. And as gambling operators rush to feed an apparently insatiable appetite among a growing number of adults, researchers are fearful of a stage-army marching in behind – a new generation of young gamblers, starting to play and bet much earlier in life than previous ones. Recent surveys have reported that upwards of 2 million Americans are now problem gamblers. This is a group with an addiction to gambling, an uncontrollable urge to empty their wallets, an inexhaustible desire for bets and buggy dice.

There are known biological causes of gambling addiction (for example, dopamine is involved) and psychological studies that have found high incidences of gambling addiction among those with histories of substance abuse or impulse disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or antisocial personality disorder.

Biological factors beyond craving – eg, impulsivity and sensation-seeking traits – might contribute to gambling addiction as well. High impulsivity and sensation-seeking traits are correlated with engaging in other risky activities such as gambling: moreover, boredom could arise from the individual’s desire for stimulating activity – they might turn to gambling as a form of escape.

Social factors

Gambling addiction is a very complex problem that affects all people, it can destroy your financial well-being, damages your relationships and decrease your quality of life; on top of that it can be symptomatic of underlying mental health issues. Social determinants, including impulsiveness, sensation-seeking, boredom and stress are factors that would put you more vulnerable to hugging the flop.

Others, such as exposure to gambling at an early age and peer pressure, may help to normalise the behaviour, reducing its salience. Access to online gambling and social support networks may further amplify the risk.

In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often very helpful. CBT teaches you how to resist negative self-talk and self-destructive behaviours – or to replace thoughts that can undermine recovery attempts, such as the gambler’s fallacy – with more rational ways of thinking. Support-group membership is another invaluable source of encouragement and accountability.


People who have gambling addictions can get help from treatments, which include psychotherapy and support groups – some of which are online – and a test that may help to determine if someone has a gambling disorder, though you should never go this route instead of a professional evaluation in person.

While there is no drug that is specifically indicated for gambling disorder, some antidepressants can help to treat some of its symptoms. In addition to any treatment for gambling disorder itself, anyone with gambling disorder should also try to deal with any other mental health problems, which might be causing it.

Proven psychotherapies for gambling disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, which helps with seeing and changing unhealthful behaviours and thoughts, and breaking gambling ambivalence, respectively. Case-control studies show that someone whose family tree includes gambling problems has a higher risk for becoming addicted.

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