An addiction is a behavior that is pursued in spite of harmful or negative consequences. This behavior can be taking a drug like alcohol or tobacco, or engaging in an activity like over-eating or gambling. The underlying mechanisms of addiction are similar in both drugs and behaviors, and while a behavior such as gambling may not pose immediate physical risks like a drug, the consequences of addiction can be just as devastating. Problem gambling is an issue that can quickly spiral out of control and has the potential to leave a life in ruins…

Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a behavior with an exceptionally high potential for habit formation. One of the most crucial aspects involved in becoming conditioned to a behavior, becoming addicted, is not just the pleasure of the reward itself but the way in which it is obtained. Psychological studies of operant conditioning in animals have shown that we are more prone to become attached to a behavior that only gives us a reward some of the time than a behavior that always pays off. Such an intermittent reward schedule is a powerful tool for shaping addictive behavior, and is what makes gambling such a thrill. Human beings are wired for taking moderate risks with high potential payoffs, such as hunting a wild animal, due in part to our evolutionary history. The more the behavior is repeated and reinforced, the stronger the connections associated with it become in the brain.

Honestly identifying our own personal difficulties can be a very complicated task. Your own gambling might seem more like a hobby or at most a small character flaw, when the reality is very different. Some signs of a gambling addiction include if you’ve ever hid your gambling from friends or family, you have trouble walking away, you’ve ever found yourself gambling money you didn’t have in an effort to recoup your losses, gambling has caused you financial hardship, or you have become restless, irritable or anxious in a past effort to cut back. If you suspect there is even a small chance you have a problem, or someone in your life claims you do, it may be a good idea to take a break for a few months to determine exactly where you stand.

If you’re having difficulty controlling your gambling there are a number of steps you can take. Consider reaching out to those you trust for help. Having someone watch over your money seems like an extreme measure, but it is an effective strategy while going through the initial stages of recovery. Try not to have extra spending money in your possession. Recognize that during your abstinence you may experience genuine withdrawal symptoms, as one would coming off a drug. These symptoms are temporary and a sign of your brain re-adjusting to everyday life. Avoid alcohol as drinking can severely limit impulse control. Finally, consider finding a gambling recovery group in your area or online. Many people have been through recovery before, and there do exist communities that know how to get through it. Don’t forget that the brain is a very plastic organ, and if given the time to heal will return to normal.

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