The different options for bingo games and other casino amusements that are available online have opened up a whole new world, and for many players it is nothing but enjoyable. While gambling is a manageable pleasure for most people, there are some for whom it can become a major problem and the easy access and anonymity of online games can make things a lot worse. When it starts impacting on your daily functioning, and causes you to shirk responsibilities in your professional life or let down loved ones in your private life, then it has become an addiction.
Understanding the causes of gambling addiction is essential to its treatment, and there is plenty of help available and plenty of hope too. While around 2% to 3% of adults in America, 0.5% to 1.1% of over-16s in the United Kingdom, and up to 2% of adults in Europe report problem gambling behaviour, and while the figures keep rising, as many as two thirds of those who seek help show significant improvement.
The prognosis for gambling addicts who admit they have a problem and seek help is good, but we are always learning more. Diagnosis and treatment have certainly become more refined over the years, suggesting that they could become much more sophisticated than they are right now. And, of course, essential to the individual’s healing is their capacity to admit that there is a problem in the first place.
While the beginnings of any addiction are complex and are never down to a single factor, most experts agree that the idea of changing whatever you are feeling in an almost immediate way is what nearly all addicts find so seductive. Whatever their behaviour or substance of choice is, indulging allows them an instant way to escape or suppress any horrible feelings that they would rather avoid.
Overeaters might find that the stress of being bullied at school was alleviated with a binge on sweets; cocaine addicts may feel like they can conquer any amount of university work rather than feeling weak after they’ve done a line or two; housewives in the 1960s felt less bored and dissatisfied with life when they had popped a few diet pills. In addition, gambling addicts feel a rush of adrenaline and excitement that they don’t find in their other activities, which helps them defocus from the real stresses and pressures of their lives.
The immediate pleasure that an addict’s fix brings is a huge part of its allure; any stress or uncomfortable feelings are eased almost instantaneously. The brain forms a connection between the behaviour or substance and the peaceful or euphoric feelings it induces, and starts to look for that whenever an individual wants to avoid anything. It can happen to anyone at any time, but people who didn’t learn to delay pleasure or deal with difficult situations or feelings when they were young, as well as anyone who grew up exposed to the addictions of others, seem especially at risk.
The Power of Shame
Any uncomfortable feeling can usually be alleviated by the powerful pleasure that an addictive substance or behaviour unleashes including, and especially, shame. Not only is this an awful feeling from which the addict wishes to escape, but when they become locked in the cycle of addiction the flames of that shame are fanned ever higher.
A gambling addict, for example, might start to feel incredibly ashamed for losing money, especially as things get worse and the money is intended for other important things like mortgages and school fees. Ironically, the only way to ease that shame and create the sense of calm that they think they need to solve the situation is to gamble more. This creates more guilt and shame – and so the cycle continues. Addicts often have a very low sense of self-worth and identity even before their addiction begins, creating very fertile ground for these seeds of behaviour to grow.
Experts around the world treat problem gambling, and other addictions, in various ways. Some claim to work much more quickly than conventional methods by breaking the emotional tie that addicts make with their specific behaviours or substances, while others take a more traditional approach. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, brief solution-based counselling and even electroshock therapy have all been found to be useful. Working on coping strategies for stress and relapse urges, as well as developing social skills and support, are also important.
In the end, each individual is unique and the specific combination of treatment approaches that will work for them is similarly so. We need to keep learning about addiction and treating each addict on a case-by-case basis. All the tools currently at therapists’ disposal should be used, and the arsenal should be constantly developed, upgraded and refined.