As a counsellor and psychotherapist, one of the issues that people come to see me for is help to overcome gambling addiction.
There are many definitions of addiction and there is a recognition that addiction has its origins within our genes, that biological factors such a neurological processes play a part. Alongside our genetics the origin of addiction may also be influenced by the nurturing from our upbringing, by environmental factors, by pharmacological factors, by our interpretation and response to life experiences, and by social interactions. These factors are by no means exhaustive.
Like all addictions, there can be significant/life changing consequences to gambling addiction. For most people, an occasional gambling experience can be fun. Millions of people safely take part in the National Lottery while some may bet on the Grand National. Where there is addiction, a person will not be seeking an ad hoc fun experience. Instead their desire to gamble may be fuelled by compulsion, a sense of need, often a sense of urgency and inconsiderate of consequence.
An addicted gambler may experience excitement, relief, authority and optimism that can feel euphoric. This can lead the addicted gambler into increased frequency of gambling and an increase in the amount they spend on gambling activities. Psychologically, the addicted gambler may start convincing his/herself that a win is likely or probable and physiologically the addicted gambler may be fuelled by increased bouts of adrenaline rush.
Conversely, when losing, the addicted gambler continues with gambling activity, despite even a possible losing streak. He/she may be dishonest about losing, may be covert about financial losses, may start to accrue debt to cover the losses, may begin hiding their behaviour from those close to them and may develop a personality that facilitates these behaviours. The addicted gambler may find him/herself entering into internal conflict at this stage, deluding him/herself about the likelihood of a next big win, blocking him/herself from recognising any sense of consequence or escalation.
This can lead an addicted gambler into a sense of desperation, in which the addicted gambler may feel like their situation is that of being backed into an increasingly tight corner; for they may find themselves in increased financial difficulty. They may seek unlawful ways to fund their gambling activities, their social or professional networks may become aware of either the gambling activities or the consequences of it. The addicted gambler may start to withdraw and relationships with friends, family and loved ones may visibly become impacted.
By this point, an addicted gambler may find themselves increasingly likely to develop mental health deterioration. Lack of sleep, increased anxiety, confusion, delusional thoughts, irrational responses, denial, as well as worsening physical health that may come from both the increased stress but also from not looking after themselves well. At this stage, an addicted gambler may begin to feel distress at their deteriorating circumstances and may seek help. He/she may seek the support of a specialist gambling therapy service or the support of a counsellor and psychotherapist.
Upon reaching a point of helplessness, having already developed into a state of desperation, the addicted gambler may go on to feel that they have no control, that there is no way out, that they have no power to cease their addiction behaviour. They may feel emotionally damaged, wounded or distressed to a level that guilt and self-blame develop and they may have started to experience significant loss; broken relationships, loss of material possessions, loss of a job, loss of self-esteem and social standing, loss of their own moral code, loss of health and mental well-being, and significantly loss of hope.
The loss of hope and dignity may further plunge an addicted gambler into despair, depression, anxiety and the addicted gambler may find him/herself turning their addiction behaviour to other addictions such as drugs or alcohol, sex or other high risk behaviour. This spiral into chaos and despair can lead an addicted gambler to suicidal ideation or actual suicide attempts.
With far reaching implications for the addicted gambler and those close to him/her, the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist can be a lifeline. If you are, or someone you know is, affected by gambling addiction, please do seek help. There will be counsellors and psychotherapists, and specialist support services, in your area.
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About Dean Parsons
A counsellor, psychotherapist and clinical supervisor with 15 years experience. Accredited, registered and an 'approved supervisor' with The National Counselling Society. My career includes; service manager of an addiction counselling service, commissioning manager for Suffolk County Council and specialist services team leader for NHS Suffolk.… Read more
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