Depression, Loneliness and Gambling Addiction

Depression, Loneliness and Gambling AddictionMany people still do not realize that a person can develop a bona fide addiction to a behavior such as gambling. Behavioral addiction is a psychological dependency that is distinct from the physical dependence that may accompany addiction to certain substances. A useful working definition of addiction is “repeatedly or compulsively engaging in destructive behaviors despite negative consequences.” Under this definition compulsive problem gambling may certainly qualify as an addiction.

Clinical evidence supports the concept that behaviors such as gambling can be addictive. Many behaviors such as sex naturally release the chemical neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain, resulting in an elevated mood or even feelings of euphoria. Many drugs of abuse also create their “high” by triggering excess amounts of dopamine. In gambling addicts, engaging in their behavior of choice likewise triggers dopamine production. Addiction to any substance or behavior is often a result of seeking this dopamine rush; over time the addict comes to rely on the addictive substance or behavior to trigger dopamine production and to avoid depression, and can feel good no other way.

Contributing Factors and Triggers of Gambling Addiction

Depression is one of the most common contributing factors to many forms of addiction. Depression often compels the sufferer to seek relief or “self-medicate” by ingesting substances or engaging in behaviors that make him or her feel better temporarily. Again, the euphoria produced by excess dopamine in the brain is often very effective in relieving depression temporarily. However, once the euphoria subsides, dopamine levels crash, resulting in rebound depression that is often worse than it was to begin with. This then triggers more indulgence of the addiction and repetitive cycles of a high followed by a crash.

Loneliness is often a component of depression. Loneliness and depression also often result in boredom, which is a major trigger of gambling addiction. Compulsive gamblers usually fall into one of two broad categories: those who are seeking excitement and those who are seeking escape into the familiar. Those who are seeking excitement tend to be drawn to games with high stakes and lots of action, and are very prone to seek the excitement and camaraderie of the gaming table when depression, loneliness and boredom set in. Those who are seeking escape into the familiar are more inclined to use mechanical styles of play, and often seek to numb their emotional pain through long sessions at a slot machine.

Consequences of Gambling Addiction

The numerous possible negative consequences of gambling addiction are often directly or indirectly related to financial difficulty caused by losing large amounts of money over time. Even after significant losses, compulsive gamblers are compelled to keep gambling, often feeling that a win is just around the corner. Compulsive gamblers tend to remember the wins and the feeling of euphoria they produced, and continue to chase that high.

Gambling addiction typically follows a clear pattern of three distinct stages: the winning stage, the losing stage, and the desperation stage. The desperation stage often involves debt, financial hardship, social or professional consequences, such as divorce or job loss, and may even involve criminal activities to alleviate debt, prosecution for said activities, severe depression and suicide.

Treatment for Compulsive Gambling

Gambling addiction can be treated successfully and compulsive gamblers can regain control over their lives. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and needs treatment, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline; we can answer any questions you have and help you find the treatment you need.