“What time is it? I lost track. I have tome for one more—bet, that is. It will surely be the turning point; one that will get my special streak back on track. It always come back.; just not sure what’s taking so long this time. I must be doing something wrong or maybe I did something wrong and it’s my punishment. Maybe someone at the table is emitting bad vibes. You know luck works in mysterious ways.
Oh-right—what time is it now? Oh no! I’m really late—again. I don’t think I can show up for work now, at this hour. They’ll be upset with me for not coming to work, but I’ll figure something out. For that matter, my wife isn’t going to be too happy with me either-especially after not coming home all night. She’s already given me the benefit of the doubt to get myself under control. I could lose another job and that will mean big trouble covering my losses. My 401K is gone and so are the college funds for my son and daughter. But, I still have time to win it all back. I can most likely double or triple my stake-right? After all, the kids are just in high school. Oh, yeah, I’ll have to pick up a cheap, fake wedding ring before I go home as well.
I get these headaches. My insomnia really gets the best of me. I have to get my belly pain checked out soon. I think I’ve lost more weight. When I see myself in the mirror, I look terrible. I don’t enjoy much of anything anymore; On the other hand, that’s not necessarily true because when they approved cyber sports betting, I was elated! I feel guilty for a lot of this, but I can’t seem to stop. Maybe I have a problem, but it’s the only thing that excites me and when I win it makes it all good. I know that I’m the “lucky one” down deep. It will all be OK and then we’ll be on “Easy Street” and they’ll all thank me. Why’s the Sheriff talking to me with papers in his hand; are they for me? I wish my father was still around. I wish anybody was still around.”
Compulsive gambling is an addiction like many others. There’s tolerance, withdrawal and awareness that these are harmful behaviors, but I do them anyway.
The Science of Gambling
There have been years of research about gambling. It turns out there are many facets of gambling that are synonymous with drug addiction from a neuroscience perspective. Researchers have demonstrated brain changes as addiction develops. Specifically, in the middle of the cranium are a series of circuits known as the reward system that connects other regions of the brain that impact memory, movement, pleasure and motivation. According to the research, as a result of engaging in “activities that keeps us alive or helps us pass on our genes, neurons in the reward system squirt out a chemical called dopamine, giving us a little wave of satisfaction and encouraging us to make a habit of enjoying hearty meals and romps in the sack. When stimulated by amphetamine, cocaine or other addictive drugs, the reward system disperses up to 10 times more dopamine than usual… ” [Scientific American; Brain and Behavior; How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling]. Over time, the dopamine bath that the brain receives creates less sensitivity to drugs and more is required to produce the satisfaction derived from it. Just as a person addicted to drugs experiences this effect (tolerance), so does a person addicted to gambling. It has been demonstrated that as a result of the influx of the chemical dopamine, it can induce one to make more rash decisions and take more risks because risks and rewards are “more appealing.” As a matter of fact, based on studies of brain flow activities in the brains of people with substance use disorder and those with compulsive gambling, it appears that the same brain circuits are altered in many ways. This compulsivity robs people of their lives, their family, their jobs, and themselves!
The research into compulsive gambling regarding genetics and neuroscience resulted in the American Psychiatric Association moving pathological gambling to the addiction’s chapter in the latest addition of the DSM-5. This has changed how psychiatrists approach treatment for compulsive gambling.
There is no cure for gambling; no endpoint at which one is declared cured. The most important objective is to break its grasp, regardless of whether you are a “sometimes” gambler or you are compulsive. Therapeutic models include intensive individual treatment to specific group therapies. As in many disorders, one size does not fit all. Among the therapies is: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in which one learns to identify the thought processes that have created the compulsive conduct, and how to better manage their impact. Psychotherapy helps to deal with gambling triggers through individual or group sessions. Family Therapy can play an important role in compulsive gambling as families are often embroiled in the lifestyle and consequences of the addiction that their loved one suffers from. Setting limits on access to gambling opportunities is also important; especially in a time where it is more accessible than ever. There are also Residential Gambling Treatment Centers that may be a great choice for one’s journey to recovery.
Most important, is that treatment is guided through a sensitive, patient professional who is well experienced and current in their knowledge about what the research has shown us.
Don’t suffer alone…
Charles E Meusburger, MD is a licensed, board certified diplomat of Psychiatry & Neurology and board certified in Addiction Medicine- specializing in Adult and Adolescent Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, Effective Talking Therapies, and Medication Evaluation Management, practicing for over 25 Years with experience helping people to make their lives better and happier. To schedule an appointment contact us 609-484-0770 so we can help you with life’s demands.