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Is Gambling Addiction Really an Addiction?

Anyone who gambles has had to put up with accusations at one point or another from overly concerned friends, family, or colleagues.  “Gambling is an addiction,” they say.  “Gambling is bad for you.  Don’t do it.”


There are people who gamble irresponsibly and who seem to lose all control over their behaviour.  These people do behave like addicts, and it is understandable that many people seem to perceive gambling in much the same light as a controlled substance.  But is “gambling addiction” really an addiction? 


I have gotten into this topic a little bit in my article, Is All Problem Gambling a Form of Addiction?.  It is my belief that “problem gambling” is a better broad umbrella term than “gambling addiction,” because not all forms of problem gambling follow the same patterns as addiction.  Not all gamblers who engage in reckless or irrational behaviours do so compulsively.  Many people make mistakes they do not repeat - or do eventually learn to overcome. 

Here are some of the issues I discussed:

•           Newbie mistakes and anxieties

•           Loss of emotional control (what you can call “going on tilt”)

•           Poor technique

•           Ignorance (bad money management skills, etc.)


All of these can lead to problem gambling, but none of them necessarily point toward addiction.


So I was fascinated to discover this information published by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic.  According to Dr. Fadi Anjoul, the clinic’s Education and Training Officer, “The idea of gambling addiction is widespread, but inaccurate.”


What is the difference between problem gambling and gambling addiction?  Dr. Anjoul explains that, “Problem gambling is better thought of as a misguided obsession.”  As he points out, problem gamblers fail to develop tolerance or go into withdrawal.  This is a feature common to other forms of addiction.  “We re dealing with habitual and poorly informed choices rather than biological processes that are beyond individual control.


The problem with associating gambling with addiction is that it is often treated ineffectually.  Dr. Anjoul says that, “Traditional therapies tend to focus on ways to help people deal with their urges when they occur, and show high rates of relapse after therapy ends.” 


Dr. Anjoul instead uses cognitive therapy.  This therapy explores the personal narrative around problem gambling and helps troubled gamblers to understand how their choices have led them to where they are.  Cognitive therapy encourages problem gamblers to question their motivations and rethink their relationship to gambling.  According to Dr. Anjoul, “We often find that by the end of treatment, people are experiencing very few urges.” 


In other words, traditional therapies often fail because they are addressing avoidable urges.  They try to teach problem gamblers how to combat their urges when they occur, but not how to prevent them in the first place.


All of this is also great news for problem gamblers who feasibly could eventually get the problematic aspects of their behaviour under control and still continue gambling. 


That is another difference with addiction.  There is a saying that once you are an alcoholic, you are always an alcoholic.  This is because you can be clean for years, but if you touch a single drop of alcohol, the entire addictive process can go right back into full swing.


If gambling “addiction” is not really a form of addiction, that indicates that this pattern may not occur with former “gambling addicts.”  If you are able to curtail your urges and understand the roots of your troubled behaviour, you may be able to re-approach gambling from a new, healthy angle someday and actually profit and have fun.


This will not be true for all problem gamblers of course, but I believe it may be true for many.  Even a lot of pro gamblers have struggled with seemingly “addictive’ behaviour at one point or another, and eventually gotten back on track.  This is consistent with current research. 


If you think you may have a gambling problem, you should definitely withdraw for a while and seek treatment.  Do not lose hope; you may be able to get back to what you enjoy someday with a healthy, balanced, profitable mindset.


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Gambling on the Internet

A few things to consider when gambling online:

  • Take advantage of first deposit bonuses
  • Have a budget and stick to it
  • Don't lose more than you can afford
  • When drunk, don't bet!
  • Don't chase losses
  • Bet on markets you know well
  • Don't abuse bonuses