One recent report shows conclusively that gambling is a real addiction and it is particularly rampant in Australia. We can see that patterns unfold in ways which are strikingly familiar and similar to any other addiction. The gamblers play relentlessly. They go until they are tapped out and like any other addict, they go out to “score” again. For the gambler this means taking out more loans, extending the limit on credit cards, and of course lying to family members about what they are doing.
One person saw this phenomenon as particularly striking in those who play the slot machines. Sitting for hours on end at these digital machines, they feed all of their money into it but by bit. They show no signs of pleasure or enjoyment. They are more like heroin addicts who are bound to couches and beds and move only to shoot more dope. He compared the slot players to an addicts he had seen who did nothing but lay in a cot and sit up periodically to inject morphine. After he shot his dope, he would lay motionless for about four hours until he began to shake, then he would move only to shoot more dope.
Gamblers Hedonic Treadmill
Gamblers, it turns out, are lost in the same cycle as drug addicts. They are victims of what is called the “hedonic treadmill.” Gambling releases dopamine, which is the basic brain chemical at the root of addiction. As people gamble, their brains anticipate the release of dopamine. If the payoff is not what they anticipated, the dopamine levels return to a lower level and they are compelled to repeat the actions again. This goes on and on until it becomes just as unstoppable as drugs and alcohol.
The other feature of this chemical process is that the dopamine receptors actually stop working over time. As with chemical addictions, the gambler eventually loses the ability to feel the pleasure of the rush. At this point, it is a flat-line experience. Gamblers are gambling simply because the gamble. It is just as debilitating as drugs.
Gambling tends to get less attention these days. The problem of heroin and meth has occupied much of the public attention. But it is a real addiction. Based on per capita spending, Australians are the world’s most avid gamblers and the addiction that attends this is everywhere in evidence on Australia today.
Like all addictions, gambling addiction is treatable. Like other behavioral addictions such as sex and porn addiction, gambling can be met with the same forms of intervention which lead people back to a life free of gambling.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been clinically proven to be effective in treating gambling addiction. The forms of intervention intrinsic to CBT which ultimately serve as long term learning experiences are extremely effective in countering the destructive behavior patterns associated with gambling addiction. CBT helps repair behavioral disruptions which are the result of addiction. It also addresses the psychological and emotional difficulties which lead to addiction.
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