Specialised Therapy for help and support to address Problem Gambling

Problem Gambling

Counselling can help individuals to reduce and stop gambling through examining what is happening in their life and putting in interventions. Gambling is a disorder where the individuals wellbeing is overridden by a compulsion to seek the highs and lows experienced when participating in risk associated behaviour.

For problem gamblers there is a higher association with mental health problems, relationship issues, debt including alcohol and substance abuse.  Certain pre-existing mental health conditions can lead to an individual being more susceptible to having reduced impulse control and involvement with gambling.

Ultimately it is the individual who has to accept they have a problem with gambling, to take responsibility for their behaviour and seek support in overcoming the addiction.

Taking responsibility for self is not about shaming, criticising or blaming. It is about the acknowledgement that it is ourselves that choose and control the direction of our life not others. Overcoming problem gambling is about taking back control of your life.

Triggers, Risk and Reward

When bored, angry, upset, ashamed or anxious the individual may not be able to regulate their own emotions and may find their feelings overwhelming. Instead of taking  control  and addressing the issue, the individual masks the emotion by seeking and alternative, albeit a temporary, risk based high or euphoria.

There is a connection between an event and the resulting destructive behaviour. The reoccurring event acts as a trigger to initiate the hunger to replace one feeling for another in this instance for the experience of a high.  By example a difficult day at work may trigger a feeling of not being good enough, feeling down the anticipation of gambling produces excitement starting the feel good factor.

When engaged in gambling, sensory stimulus is heighted. Whilst in ’the zone’, external thoughts and concerns are blocked out. Lifes’ problems are suspended. Interrupting someone when they are gambling will typically result in irritability and frustration. 

The high of gambling is a reward, as is the blocking out of painful underlying thoughts and feelings. Supplementary rewards include temporary replacement feelings of being successful, in control, a winner etc with the incidental payoff of win or lose financially.

As a gambling transaction completes then excitement falls. The cycle is completed with the  anticipation of seeking further reward and winning leading to another bet being made.

Dopamine Addiction

The excitement of the uncertain outcome or risk leads the brain to produce the euphoria inducing hormone dopamine. Often the satisfaction of the anticipation is greater than the actual winning even if that is the infrequent outcome.  The addiction is to the dopamine and when hormone levels drop there is a physical withdrawal and a psychological compulsion to gamble again due to its behavioural association with getting the next fix.

This is exploited by gambling organisations that ensure the desire for stimulation is promoted by the, use of bright flashing lights, load noises or music and fast movement prompting a sense of urgency. The desire is nurtured through the implied reward of fame, fortune and popularity

Gamblers become acclimatised to the stimulus and the arousal of the dopamine.  Losing is required to provide the necessary risk and is part of the cycle to ‘stick at it’ until the desired outcome is experienced. To maintain the same high, gamblers often raise the level of risk by increasing the size of the bet.

Magical Thinking

The judgement of the Adult state is suspended and so are the social boundaries of the inner Parent. Without these inhibitions caution is disregarded and reckless behaviour of the negative inner Child is not checked until funds money runs out.

Winning reinforces the fuzzy logic behind justifying why gambling is an appropriate and reasonable behaviour.  The reward is more than just about the money. In the inner Child ego state, magical thinking can justify beliefs such as  ‘I‘m a winner after all’,  ‘I now have control over the outcome’ or  ‘I’m smart, smarter than other people’ also   I’ve found a short cut around the obstacles of life’.

As a gambler starts to lose more and more they often chase their losses. They seek to recoup ‘their money’, often in the justification the gambling outfit has ‘cheated’ or ‘stolen’ their money.

Desperation can set in as the inner Child state start to panic. Often the gambling activity is concealed. Lying to family and friends becomes more common in an attempt to avoid being discovered and also to con people out of money for gambling.

Breaking the Cycle

The anti-climax after gambling quickly sets in with the original emotion that the individual was trying to mask growing in intensity. This leads to self-loathing and shame. Therefore the cycle of anticipatory high and crashing despair go round and round.

On the surface concerns and protests of family and friends are ignored, ridiculed and met with indignant anger and denial. Underneath is growing guilt, shame and panic at the inevitable confrontation of being found out.  When it does come out into the open there is often a sense of relief that the secret is out.

Mostly the gambler needs to be outed before they will admit they have a problem with gambling. Even then they will often harbour a secret desire to gamble and outsmart the system. The physical addiction and the psychological compulsion will both need to be addressed.