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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.
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 wellbeing, 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.
Causes of online gambling addiction can be biological, psychological, social, or environmental. They are as follows:
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.
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
The signs and symptoms of online gambling addiction are listed below:
Other possible symptoms online gambling addiction primarily include:
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.
The most common risk factors for online gambling addiction include:
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. An 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.
Online gambling is addictive because it’s easy for a person to gamble without leaving their home or work. Easy access and immersive interface often lead to spending a lot more money than with physical gambling. At the same time, the affected person doesn’t realize the scope of the problem and how constant online gambling is harming their life.
Online gambling is defined as any kind of gambling that takes place on the internet. Online casinos, virtual poker, and sports betting all belong to this category.
People gamble online because they find it convenient, comfortable, and easy. Those are also the most important advantages of this kind of gambling. However, disadvantages outnumber the benefits. Primary disadvantages of online gambling include a high risk of developing addiction, financial problems, legal and regulatory issues, and a high risk of frauds and scams.
As mentioned above, the internet makes online gambling so addictive. A good internet connection and a laptop or phone are everything a person needs to access an online casino or other forms of gambling platforms. Additionally, online gambling is available 24/7 meaning an individual can gamble any time of day they want. This type of gambling often goes undetected, unlike “regular” gambling.
When a person starts going to casinos more often, their friends and family can notice that and recognize signs of the problem. However, it’s difficult to know what a person does on their phone or laptop unless someone checks it. For that reason, online gambling may fly under the radar and lead to greater problems such as addiction.
Moreover, online gambling lures a person in with a lot of prizes and rewards. A person wants more free tokens and other perks, so they play more, spend more money, all of which paves the way to addiction. Yet another important factor here is that a person can remain anonymous, which gives them a false sense of security and freedom to keep gambling.
Counseling for online gambling addiction is necessary when a person feels the urge to visit these websites or platforms several times a day. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of problem gamblers get the help they need.
For instance, in the UK fewer than 3% of problem gamblers receive care for their addiction according to Guardian. A similar situation is in other countries such as the United States, Australia, and Canada, just to name a few.
The main problem is that online gambling is tricky to detect. An affected person may not realize or acknowledge the existence of the problem because it doesn’t involve actual casinos and betting places. Their loved ones aren’t sure what they’re doing on their phone.
An affected person who spends more and more time gambling online may want to consider counseling. During online gambling addiction counseling sessions, the therapist helps identify triggers of the compulsive need to gamble online.
As a result, the problem gambler learns to cope and resist those triggers. Counseling is also a reasonable approach, as a preventive measure, for persons who started gambling online and notice they have the urge to do it more frequently.
Family and friends may recommend counseling to a person who spends a lot of time gambling online, pending that they already know about this activity. Or, they can do so if they notice some symptoms of addiction such as financial difficulties, irritability, social isolation, and other signs that point to the existence of some problem.
Symptoms of online gambling addiction withdrawal can be emotional and physical, similar to those associated with withdrawal from substance abuse.
Emotional withdrawal symptoms include strong cravings to gamble online, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, guilt, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Physical symptoms of online gambling addiction withdrawal range from insomnia to headaches, sweating, nausea, tremors, racing heart, palpitations, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, and muscle tension or soreness.
According to a study from the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, the intensity of gambling withdrawal-like symptoms is associated with the severity of the disorder.
The Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research journal published an interesting study that compared withdrawal symptoms in persons with alcoholism and gambling addiction. The comparative study included 49 pathologic gamblers and 101 persons with alcohol use disorder.
Results showed pathologic gamblers scored higher than subjects with alcoholism on craving measures and novelty seeking. Gambling also correlated positively with depression and had a negative relation to reward dependence thus implying that persons who are less susceptible to positive emotions are more likely to miss gambling during abstinence.
While these studies focused on gambling addiction itself, their findings apply to online gambling addiction too.
Gambling itself is not a mental illness, but it can lead to one. This is the case with compulsive gambling or gambling disorder or addiction. Problem gambling is classified as an impulse-control disorder and it is included in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual fifth edition (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association.
Not every person who gambles becomes addicted to this activity. Compulsive gamblers are characterized by cognitive distortions like illusions of control. They also display impulsive behavior and dysfunctional personality traits such as high novelty seeking or high harm avoidance.
The connection between gambling and mental illness is strong. A study from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions revealed persons with certain mental illnesses are more prone to at-risk gambling. These illnesses include schizophrenia and related disorders, unipolar depression, bipolar disorder, and cluster B personality disorder.
At the same time, compulsive gambling can affect mental health by causing or contributing to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.