It was not until 1975 and 1980 that gambling was classified as a disorder and listed down in the most commonly used document-International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) 9th edition and the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-3), respectively. Initially, it was classified as an Impulse Control Disorder, but in the 5th edition of the DSM, it was re-classified as an addictive disorder, as it shows more similarities to substance abuse than to disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In the third edition of the DSM, it was called pathological gambling, but in the fifth edition, after being reclassified, it was given the name gambling disorder (or Problem Gambling).
So why was it reclassified and why was it so important to categorize it under the addictive disorder section? Well, research showed that gambling addiction affects the brain in the same way substance use disorders do (they activate the reward mechanism of the brain). This shows a closer relationship between the two than what was thought initially. For a long period of time, gambling was thought to be similar to OCD (which is why it was originally classified as an Impulse Control Disorder), but the latter is characterized by behaviors that are caused by misplacement of signals in the brain’s fear mechanism. If gambling addiction is similar to substance abuse, then why isn’t it given the same amount of attention?
Most people who are addicted to gambling don’t realize how serious their problem is until it’s too late. I didn’t know I was addicted to gambling until I had gambled away most of the money that I had. It took me years to overcome my addiction. Before I move on and explain how I overcame my problem, let us first understand what addiction is.
A person is said to be addicted when they become dependent (either physically or psychologically) on a substance. Most people tend to become psychologically dependent first; physical dependency comes later as their bodies start to develop a tolerance for the substance. Some characteristics that all addictive behaviors have are as follows:
Salience: Salience is when the addictive behavior is the only thing the person ever thinks about. The person is always either doing the activity or is thinking about doing it.
Mood Modification: People who are addicted to something experience a “rush” or a “buzz” when they engage in the behavior they are addicted to.
Tolerance: People who are addicted eventually reach a point where an increasing amount of activity is required to give them the similar mood modifying effect they received before. When this happens, the person is said to have developed a tolerance for the activity.
Withdrawal Symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms are feelings or physical effects a person experiences when they quit or reduce the activity.
Acknowledging the Problem
The first thing you need to do to overcome any kind of addiction is to admit that you are addicted and that you have a problem. Gambling addiction is often found to be highly concurrent with alcohol problems. I was addicted not only to gambling but to alcohol as well, and I was also depressed and anxious all the time. I was always worried about making and losing money. When I realized that I was addicted, I started seeking out treatment. I was in denial for a very long time, and it was only after I saw the effect my destructive behavior had on the people around me that it dawned upon me how much trouble I was in. I started looking for support groups that could help me and luckily, I found one that managed to help me get to a point from where I could fight my addiction myself. If you or anyone you know is looking for a support group, you can join a local self-help group.
Another thing that I did was find myself a therapist who worked with me to help me overcome my addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is thought to be one of the most effective methods for treating Problem Gambling. If these things don’t work for you, then you could try taking medication. Psychiatrists usually prescribe SSRIs, Lithium (mostly used for bipolar disorder) and nalmefene to fix the dopamine imbalance in the brain and help the person lose the positive feelings they experience when they win.
The thing that helped me the most while battling my addiction was perhaps the realization that this was not affecting just me, but my family and everyone around me too. We sometimes become so engulfed in our problems that we forget we are not the only ones who are affected by them.