Psychology Perspectives: Understanding Gambling Addictions) 7/24/2014 <p>While for many gambling can seem like a fun activity, it can be a destructive force when it becom

Psychology Perspectives: Understanding Gambling Addictions

While for many gambling can seem like a fun activity, it can be a destructive force when it becomes an addiction, harming relationships, careers and lives. Gambling problems can develop over the course of years, as what was originally a leisure activity becomes a way to escape boredom or psychological stress. While gambling addiction is more prevalent in males (6), the National Center for Responsible Gaming states about 1% of people have a gambling problem or addiction.

The psychology bible, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition defines gambling addiction as a “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress” (1).

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

Some symptoms include lying to cover up the gambling, gambling with increasing amounts of money, trying to recoup or chase losses, being unsuccessful in repeated attempts at stopping, and gambling when psychologically distressed. Other factors associated with gambling addiction include arousal and adrenal rush, boredom, experience seeking and craving excitement (2; 8), as well as sensation seeking (7; 2). The drive towards intensity, poor inhibition, and compulsive tendencies also are characteristics of those who struggle with this psychological disorder (4).

Comorbid or co-occurring psychological conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and depression can contribute to a gambling addiction (7) as gambling might be a poor way of coping with these disorders (9). Gambling addiction can occur along with unhealthy behaviors such as cigarette and alcohol abuse or addiction (6).

Those who are casual gamblers tend to be more successful at managing their emotional and psychological disturbances. They often to do it for entertainment purposes and to have fun--not necessarily for excitement. They exhibit better financial management, factoring it into their budget and planning for the possibility of losing (8).

Getting Help

While there is no one method for treatment (9), the research institute RAND Corporation found that a cognitive-behavioral approach might be helpful in focusing on psychological process of the illusion of control. Challenging biased memories of winning and losing (3), someone with a gambling addiction may be prone to false memory. Involving family or family support seems to be more effective in treating gambling addiction (5). For those who are struggling with gambling addiction and are considering seeking help, there are resources out there, such as the National Council on Problem Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous, Gambling Help Online, and the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

However, being ashamed of one’s behavior prevent some from seeking help. Denial is also a common problem as well as being intent to handling the gambling problems alone (3).


1: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
2: Coventry, K. R., & Brown, R. I. (1993). Sensation seeking, gambling and gambling addictions. Addiction, 88, 541-554.
3: Disley, E., Pollitt, A., Culley, D. M., & Rubin, J. (2011). Min the Gap: A Critical Review of Literature on Gambling-related Harm. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
4: el-Guebaly, N., Tanya Mudry, J. Z., Tavares, H., & Poenza, M. N. (2011). Compulsive features in behavioral addiction: the case of pathological gambling. Addiction, 107, 1726-1734.
5: Kourgiantakis, T., Jacques, M.-C. S., & Tremblay, J. (2013). Problem gambling and families: A systematic review. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 13, 353-372.
6: McCormack, A., Shorter, G. W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Characteristics and predictors of problem gambling on the internet. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 11, 634-657.
7: McCormick, J., Delfabbro, P., & Denson, L. A. (2012). Psychological vulnerability and problem gambling: An application of Duran Jacobs' General Theory of Addictions to electronic gaming machine playing in Australia. Journal of Gambling Studies, 28, 665-690.
8: Ricketts, T., & MacAskill, A. (2004). Differentiating normal and problem gambling: A grounded theory approach. Addiction Research and Theory, 12(1), 77-87.
9: Suissa, A. J. (2011). Vulnerability and gambling addiction: Psychosocial benchmarks and avenues for intervention. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 12-23.

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