Self-Control & Problem Gambling

Self-Control & Problem GamblingWhen a person fails to exercise self-control in the casino, it can sometimes be a result of problem or pathological gambling. An estimated six million Americans are addicted to gambling, and this can tear families apart and result in everything from financial ruin to prison time. In a 2008 Australian survey, problem gambling was found to be the largest contributor to fraud within the nation, with the average case resulting in a loss of $1.1 million.

According to studies, a person with a gambling addiction also has a much higher lifetime risk for suicide. In fact, a report from the National Council on Problem Gambling stated that one in five pathological gamblers try to take their own life at some point. UC San Diego sociologist David Phillips labeled Las Vegas as having the highest suicide rate in the United States, and the levels for New Jersey became “abnormally high” only after the introduction of legal gambling.

In order to prevent financial and personal ruin, as well as curb the risk of more fatal problems, a person must first be diagnosed as having a gambling disorder. In order to be classified as a pathological gambler, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that at least four of the following symptoms must be demonstrated within a one-year period.

  • Gambling has caused the individual to suffer extreme financial problems. As a result, they often have to rely on friends and family for assistance to meet basic needs such as food and rent.
  • When the individual tries to stop gambling or even scale back their activities, they experience feelings of restlessness and irritability.
  • Instead of admitting their dependence on gambling, the person often comes up with elaborate lies to mask their involvement.
  • When the person feels anxious, depressed, or otherwise stressed out, they frequently turn to gambling as a mechanism for coping with their problems (both real and imagined).
  • Over time, the excitement derived from gambling begins to diminish. In order to recapture this feeling, the individual begins to increase the size of their wagers. This works for a time, but then the amount must once again be increased in order to maintain the desired rush.
  • Due to their gambling, the individual has either destroyed or seriously jeopardized a job, relationship, or career opportunity. In many cases, however, the person blames these setbacks and misfortunes on factors other than gambling.
  • The person has tried on multiple occasions to stop or cut back on gambling. Each time, however, the attempt is ultimately unsuccessful.
  • If the individual suffers financial losses during a gambling session, they return as soon as possible in an effort to recoup their money. This cycle often continues until the gambler has either achieved their goal of “getting even” or (more likely) cannot obtain additional funds to play with.
  • The person is obsessed with gambling in both word and deed. When they’re not playing some game of chance, they’re daydreaming about past wins, planning their next gambling excursion, or thinking of financial schemes to generate a new bankroll.

Fortunately, a problem gambler has a number of means at their disposal for overcoming their self-destructive behavior. While the success rate of each option differs based on the individual, the following have proven to be among the most successful.

Self-Control & Problem Gambling


In this sort of treatment, the individual largely determines the direction of their rehabilitation. This may be as simple as exercising willpower and resisting temptation, or it can also involve online peer support to aid in recovery. Another popular option involves motivational interviewing, allowing the individual to emotionally prepare themselves for life without gambling. According to one study, one-third of problem gamblers are able to overcome the addiction on their own.


In severe cases, drug treatment may be prescribed to help the individual overcome their desire to gamble. Two popular drugs for this type of therapy are paroxetine and lithium.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The emphasis is on identifying gambling-related thought processes, especially those that make a person vulnerable to out-of-control behavior. Problem-solving and skill-building are both emphasized as a way to combat possible relapses.

Step-based Program

The most well-known version of this therapy is Gamblers Anonymous, and its 12 steps are modeled on those used by Alcoholics Anonymous. The system emphasizes group support and individual responsibility, and a significant amount of time is devoted to helping members overcome financial and legal troubles.

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