Isolation and Gambling Addiction

Isolation and Gambling AddictionMost gambling addictions do not develop overnight. Once they begin, however, they can be hard to stop. For some people, seeing others hit a big win at a slot machine or card table is all it takes to get the adrenaline pumping. Whether the scene plays out in a dimly lit casino or the virtual version of Vegas, for individuals with addictive tendencies, the end result is the same. Good judgment is absent often taking loved one’s sense of financial security, trust and peace along with it.

In order to recover from a gambling addiction, most people must break the isolation that commonly feeds it. The first step is to understand what a gambling disorder looks like, how it progresses and why finding community builds sobriety.

Gambling Addiction 101

For the first time, the American Psychiatric Association is recognizing gambling addiction as a disorder. The new Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is scheduled to be published this spring, will include it under a new category of “behavioral addictions.” Criteria for diagnosis include the following:

  • Preoccupation with gambling
  • “Chasing” one’s losses
  • Lying to loved ones about gambling

The rationale for this change is a growing body of scientific studies on brain chemistry. Like alcohol and drug use, gambling stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure center. A Harvard Mental Health Letter cites neuroimaging technologies as proof that just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart, addiction hijacks the brain.

Dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and reproduction) with pleasure and reward. The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the same circuit and then overload it.

Anatomy of a Gambling Addiction

Development of a gambling addiction typically follows four distinct phases. The winning phase comes first. This typically short (and sometimes non-existent) phase connects escape from problems with winning several small or large bets. It provides a rush by giving benefits that include the following:

  • Temporary boost in self-esteem
  • Sense of empowerment
  • Excitement and titillation

Phase two, the “chasing” stage, occurs when losses begin to add up. The individual attributes these defeats to bad luck and hides them from friends and family, especially when they create financial hardship. Other symptoms of this stage include the following:

  • Preferring to gamble alone
  • Ignoring friends and family
  • Becoming irritable when not gambling
  • Relying on gambling as a main coping strategy for life challenges
  • Becoming increasingly unapproachable about the problem
  • Borrowing money to support the habit

In an attempt to minimize conflicts in relationships, a gambling addict will often isolate himself from friends and family members. When interactions with these caring people do occur, they are often fraught with tension, lying, justifying, or denial. The increased isolation that results creates a climate in which addiction grows and festers, according to Psychology Today. Signs of isolation that may signal a worsening addiction include the following:

  • Ignoring the signs of negative thinking and distorted thinking
  • Ceasing to engage in healthy, self-esteemable activities
  • Feeling lonely
  • Keeping secrets
  • Heightened sense of boredom
  • Blaming others for problems
  • Negative and distorted thinking

As the addiction deepens the individual enters the “desperation phase.” This third stage is characterized by the following behaviors:

  • Behaving as if nothing in life matters except the thrill of betting more
  • Lying
  • Manipulation
  • Denial
  • Acute anger when questioned about the habit

At this point many individuals “hit bottom” and acknowledge they have an addiction. Those who do not often progress to the final stage of the addiction. Feelings of hopelessness can become so acute that many individuals become clinically depressed and succumb to suicide and criminal acts, such as embezzlement and fraud.

Treatment Options

Gambling addiction is a serious condition that often requires professional help. Several treatment options include the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Family therapy

Because isolation is a significant factor in the maintenance of a gambling addiction and relapse, most recovery programs include a community component. The most widely accessed resource is the 12-Step program of Gamblers Anonymous (GA). Benefits of belonging to a recovery community include the following:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment
  • Improving coping skills and sense of adjustment
  • Reducing anxiety, distress and depression by sharing negative feelings
  • Gaining practical insights about treatment options
  • Comparing notes about doctors and alternative options

With help it is possible to break a gambling addiction and build a recovery that lasts.

Recovery from Gambling Addiction

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction to gambling, we can help. Recovery counselors are available at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to guide you to wellness. They can discuss your options with you and help you explore affordable, effective treatment plans. You don’t have to feel alone when support is just one phone call away. Start your recovery now.