Gambling is a widespread activity in Western society. Engagement with gambling ranges from an occasional purchase of a lottery ticket through to the use of betting shops, casinos and, increasingly, online gambling made available through the internet.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the ‘bible’ of mental health disorders, recently reclassified problem gambling from being an impulse control disorder to being an addiction, reflecting the increasing problem that many have with controlling their gambling behaviour.
Neither the type of gambling, or now the relative frequency, are in themselves clear clinical evidence that a person’s gambling is out of control and they are either struggling to control their behaviour, or indeed, have a full-blown addiction. A helpful way of considering whether your gambling has become uncontrollable is to consider the role it plays in your life. Can you stop easily? Do you experience emotional withdrawal? Under what circumstances do you find yourself compelled to gamble?
As with any addiction, the symptoms show whether a person is addicted or not. Psychotherapy is about helping clients to learn effective strategies for managing varying emotional states. People who may have impulse control problems, or addictions, find being able to ‘feel’ their emotions without reacting to them very difficult, and this is where the behaviour or substance enters. Gambling addicts use gambling to help them manage emotional states ranging from excitement through to sadness or anger.
Gambling addictions are extremely corrosive and not only affect the addict directly, but can often have a serious impact on close family and friends as well as wider society. Gamblers often find that as the addiction takes further hold, they lie to their family, especially around finances, leading to increased anxiety, alienation and low self-esteem. All of this makes stopping the compulsive behaviour all the more difficult.
Research has suggested that not only is gambling addiction on the rise, but that increasingly, women are presenting with this problem. One of the main drivers leading to this is the prevalence of online gambling. Through the click of a mouse, it is now extremely easy to bet and gamble across a range of virtual environments – all from the comfort of one’s own home. And online gambling further reinforces the addict’s predisposition to secrecy.
There is help available, and at Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy, we can work with you to help you break the addictive cycle and reclaim your life. As with any addiction, there will be a withdrawal period. However, therapy can help you to understand the nature of your addiction, learn to process your emotions internally rather than seeking external stimulus, and to build a life that gives you a long-term sense of fulfilment and meaning.