Online gambling addiction: signs, symptoms, and treatments
Table of content
- What is online gambling addiction?
- What are the causes of online gambling addiction?
- What are the effects of online gambling addiction?
- What are the signs and symptoms of online gambling addiction?
- How to overcome online gambling addiction?
- What are the risk factors for online gambling addiction?
- How do you treat online gambling addiction?
Online gambling addiction is a compulsive need to keep gambling online despite the harms it causes. The main symptoms of online gambling addiction are spending the most time on this activity, financial problems, experiencing cravings when unable to gamble online, and willingness to spend more and more money.
Causes of online gambling addiction can be biological, social, and psychological. In other words, online gambling addiction is an emotional problem that can exacerbate or trigger mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. Financial problems, debts, and even bankruptcy are some of the many severe effects of online gambling addiction. Although a serious problem, online gambling addiction is treatable, especially with professional help.
What is online gambling addiction?
Online gambling addiction is a progressive addiction classified as an impulse-control disorder. Addiction to any form of online gambling can have severe effects on a person’s physical and psychological health and well-being, financial status, and overall quality of life.
A person with online gambling continues doing so regardless of the consequences this activity causes in their life. In other words, a person is willing to risk something they value (in this case finances, health, relationships) in hope of winning in online casinos, virtual poker, or betting.
Online gambling can stimulate the brain the same way alcohol and drugs do, but it can also go undetected. This makes online gambling addiction a serious disorder.
What are the causes of online gambling addiction?
Causes of online gambling addiction can be biological, psychological, social, or environmental. They are as follows:
- Biological causes:
Online gambling triggers the release of dopamine, serotonin, and other feel-good neurotransmitters, according to a study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine. A person wants to experience those pleasant emotions again and continues gambling online. At the same time, receptors of these neurotransmitters weaken meaning greater exposure is necessary to experience the same effects. This may lead to dependence and addiction.
- Psychological causes:
Daily life stresses and pressures, underlying mental health problems can be a reason a person engages in online gambling. This form of gambling becomes a tool they use to avoid negative emotions and events.
Exposure to online gambling increases the risk of developing an addiction. Having friends or family members who gamble online often motivates a person to give it a try, which could lead to compulsive gambling and addiction
What are the effects of online gambling addiction?
- Physical effects:
Hypertension, peptic ulcer disease, cardiovascular disease, worsening of existing health problems, heartburn
- Psychological effects:
Triggering or worsening generalized anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and obsessions
- Short-term effects:
Reduced savings, feelings of regret or guilt, increased intake of alcohol or other substances, having less time or money to spend on family and recreation
- Long-term effects:
Severe financial problems including bankruptcy, serious relationship problems, poor work performance and job loss, weak overall health, legal problems, suicidal thoughts or attempts, excessive intake of alcohol and other substances, and the intensified feeling of guilt
What are the signs and symptoms of online gambling addiction?
The signs and symptoms of online gambling addiction are listed below:
- Obsessing over online gambling
- Experiencing strong cravings when unable to gamble due to poor internet connection or other reasons
- Constantly thinking about online gambling, bets, or moves to make
- Gambling online to feel better about life
- Neglecting work or school in favor of online gambling
- Using every opportunity to check gambling platforms or apps
- Spending most of the time on phone gambling
- Financial difficulties caused by gambling, unpaid bills, having many loans
- Taking bigger risks while gambling online
- Feeling guilty, but continuing gambling
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling
- Lying about online gambling
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Problems with friends, family, relationships due to online gambling habits
- Being secretive about phone/laptop use
Other possible symptoms online gambling addiction primarily include:
- Changes in behavior
- Financial difficulties
- Worsened mental health
- Problems with family and friends caused by online gambling
How to overcome online gambling addiction?
Overcoming online gambling addiction requires a strong support system and a well-structured treatment. The biggest challenge is continuing to use the internet while resisting the urge to gamble online. At the very beginning, it’s important to hand over credit cards and financial responsibilities to a spouse or family member.
The next step is to block access to online gambling platforms, uninstall apps, and avoid visiting those websites.
Cravings are a natural part of the process, which is why it’s practical to avoid socializing with people who gamble online. Identify triggers of online gambling behavior in order to resolve them. For some people, it can be boredom. To overcome this problem, they may need to plan various activities that will keep them busy.
“One day at a time” in addiction treatment is not a cliché, but a valuable lesson to keep in mind. That means a person shouldn’t focus on what happened the day before or on things that may happen the next day or in 10 days. The only focus should be on doing the best they can today.
Since the brain doesn’t like monotony and likes stimulation, there are other ways to make it happen. Many of those ways aren’t addictive. The goal is to challenge and exercise the brain. This can be through brain games, reading, writing, being creative, getting a hobby, or doing something different than a person normally does.
Managing stress also helps to overcome online gambling addiction. People experience stress differently and some of them may respond to negative moods and emotions through online gambling. In this case, online gambling becomes a way to escape stressful situations and negative moods.
What are the risk factors for online gambling addiction?
The most common risk factors for online gambling addiction include:
- History of substance use disorders
- Underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or personality disorder
- Being a male
- Younger age
- Family history of gambling problems
- Socializing with people who gamble online
- Certain personality characteristics such as competitiveness, being easily bored, impulsive behavior, and being a workaholic
- Living alone or solitary character, being able to gamble online in private
- Speaking a language other than English
- Self-reporting as a semi-professional/professional gambler
How do you treat online gambling addiction?
Treating online gambling addiction involves therapy, medications, and self-help groups. The treatment program helps a person with online gambling addiction develop impulse control in order to prevent relapse. Individuals with online gambling addiction receive treatment in inpatient (residential) or outpatient settings.
The inpatient rehabilitation program is most suitable for persons with moderate to severe addiction, primarily because they need more structure. This is particularly useful for persons who are unable to avoid checking websites, apps, and platforms of gambling. Inpatient programs require patients to spend a set amount of time in a rehab center. The length of the program ranges from 30 days to up to a year.
On the other hand, an outpatient rehabilitation program is commonly used by persons with a mild addiction. In this program, patients attend classes and counseling sessions in the rehab facility, but they do not live there. Outpatient rehab is also a good option for persons who completed inpatient treatment.
The most significant part of online gambling addiction treatment is psychotherapy, which is performed in individual or group sessions. What makes therapy important for recovery is that online gambling tends to stem from deeper emotional and mental health issues.
A patient learns to identify and deal with these problems in order to change self-destructive behaviors that support their addiction. Counseling is a safe place where a patient receives support, encouragement, and space to address their mental health without being subjected to judgmental attitudes.
The most common psychotherapy approach in the treatment of online gambling addiction is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A study from the Annals of General Psychiatry reports that CBT is an effective treatment for gambling behavior.
The therapy combines various aspects of cognitive and behavioral techniques. Cognitive techniques focus primarily on erroneous beliefs and biased information processing whereas behavioral approaches revolve around assumptions that addiction is learned maladaptive behavior. In online gambling disorder, the main targets of CBT are cognitive distortion, decision-making and reward processing, and psychological or physical responses linked to gambling.
Patients receive cognitive correction, social skills training, problem-solving training, and relapse prevention. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in both individual and group sessions in relapse prevention and treating gambling behavior.
Besides CBT, patients in online gambling addiction treatment may also receive other forms of therapy such as motivational interviewing (MI). This type of therapy was developed to help patients commit to change and work through ambivalence. The therapy explores the patient’s arguments for change in a supportive and empathic manner. In a nutshell, MI has two phases. The first phase revolves around increasing motivation to change whereas the second focuses on consolidating commitment.
In addition to therapy, online gambling addiction may also include medications. There is no specific medication for online gambling addiction patients only. However, patients may receive a prescription for medications that target underlying mental health problems such as bipolar disorder.
Medications frequently used for the treatment of compulsive gambling behaviors are mood stabilizers, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and opioid receptor antagonists. Not every patient with an online gambling addiction will need medications for the treatment process.
Support groups are also an important aspect of online gambling addiction treatment. For example, Gamblers Anonymous and other 12-step programs help patients build a support network where people share their experiences and support one another.
Online gambling addiction is not something a person should try to overcome on their own. A well-structured treatment approach and support from loved ones are vital here. Treatment of many addictions requires ceasing usage of the addictive agent. That’s not that easy to achieve here because one can’t simply stop using the internet, because it has become an integral component of our lives.
Through professional help, a person with an online gambling addiction learns how to use the internet without feeling compelled to gamble or what to do in situations when they desire to do so. They also get training for financial responsibility.