Gambling Addiction and Treatment

What is a Gambling Addiction?

Gambling involves risking something of value on an uncertain probability of a greater return, typically based on luck or chance rather than pure skill. Common gambling forms involve casinos, lotteries, betting and bookmaking on sports or racing, and even the stock market. When individuals have a gambling addiction, they experience an uncontrollable urge to engage in gambling behaviour despite the many negative psychological, physical, and social repercussions that they may experience. Pathological gambling can happen to individuals from all walks of life. This is because gambling stimulates the secretion of neurotransmitters in your brain that causes you to derive pleasure from your experience. Consequently, this drives you to gamble again to experience the same rewarding feelings. Thus, even those who gamble as a casual diversion can potentially develop an unhealthy obsession.

It may be challenging to distinguish a gambling addiction from a keen interest in gambling. The key differentiator is that a gambling addiction disrupts your life. Individuals who are compulsive gamblers often pursue their gambling behaviour at the expense of their lives and interpersonal relationships. They also often experience other accompanying conditions such as substance abuse, stress, depression, anxiety, or mood disorders. These conditions and underlying factors contributing to gambling behaviour, typically need to be addressed during treatment to help individuals overcome their gambling addiction effectively. To determine whether you have a gambling addiction, you can make use of online addiction tests or schedule an appointment with experienced therapists such as the team from Visions by Promises for a more accurate assessment.

What contributes to a Gambling Addiction?

  • Ease of accessibility. While traditional forms can be controlled by restricting physical access, the ease of accessing online gaming and gambling sites has now made it possible not only to engage in these activities 24/7 but also to do so at the click of a button or a simple login.
  • Reward system and dopamine release. As in the case of other forms of addiction, gambling activities reinforce the neurotransmitter dopamine. A fast speed of play combined with the short time between placing a bet and winning creates a gratifying connection between the activity of betting and receiving the reward of a dopamine hit. The mind is tricked into chasing the risk in anticipation of a dopamine reward, leading to impulsive loss-chasing behaviours. Gambling addictions can often lead to disastrous financial, emotional and mental consequences.
  • Inaccurate analysis of pros and cons. Research has found that persistent gamblers often rely on emotional decision-making and have distorted beliefs in their skills, statistical probability, and randomness of chance. Gamblers tend to overestimate the likelihood of outcomes with a low probability of occurring, leading to decision-making that does not accurately take into account the risk involved in their bets. Known as the gambler’s fallacy, this distortion causes one to assume that a small number of random outcomes (e.g. getting four tails in a row in a coin toss) reflects a consistent and enduring rule that will continue to apply to following events and make decisions on this assumption. In addition, game makers or the House construct an illusion of control by providing choice or devising near-misses which make one feel more motivated to put down that one last bet for a big win.
  • Other non-monetary incentives. Virtual or offline games which provide points, advantages or rewards based on luck or chance, for instance, can also lead to gambling behaviour. The popular TV series ‘Squid Game’ showed the dark side of gambling, where even human lives were used as stakes in the game. When the individual finds it difficult to disengage from the activity despite it causing problems in relationships, work, personal and emotional life, or financial responsibilities, it is time to seek professional counselling and treatment from experts in Singapore.

Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction Requiring Treatment

  • Feeling the need to be secretive about your gambling activity
  • Feeling the need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to feel enjoyment
  • Being unable to stop or control gambling, or feeling that you need to try it “just one more time”
  • Gambling even when you cannot afford it or have exceeded your budget
  • Gambling to avoid or escape difficult, stressful or negative emotions and situations
  • Feeling anxious, irritated or distressed when thinking about stopping or when told to seek treatment for  addiction
  • Spending significant amounts of time thinking about, or planning to engage in the gambling activity
  • Experiencing relationship, work or emotional and mental problems due to gambling, including neglecting other responsibilities or jeopardising relationships

Additional risk factors include

  • Other addictions such as alcohol or substances
  • Emotional upheaval, trauma or existing depression, anxiety and mood disorders
  • Being around others who gamble frequently or may have a similar addiction
  • Illegal borrowing, other financial debts

Gambling Addiction Treatment Process

While some may rely on online checklists for self-assessment, the clearest first step is to undergo an evaluation with a trained clinical professional, who can assess the extent of the gambling addiction and develop a treatment plan suited to each person’s circumstances.

The Intake Assessment (Usually a 1 hour session)

The first visit with a clinical psychologist at Visions by Promises usually entails a detailed assessment of the extent of the gambling problem, contributing factors of the addiction, contextual history and any other relevant personal background.

Based on these, the clinician will develop a treatment plan that centers on finding the most effective approach based on the underlying drivers and reasons for gambling behaviour. The clinician will also work with the individual to address these issues and develop coping and behavioural strategies for different situations and triggers.

Further Management

Where appropriate, medication may be prescribed to help manage impulsive or compulsive gambling behaviour. Underlying issues for the addiction will also need to be addressed, and where appropriate, family members or loved ones may be involved with the client’s consent. This enables better mutual understanding and a more supportive environment. Part of the treatment plan will also involve helping the individual develop life skills and strategies to manage relapses or slips so that the long-term recovery pathway remains intact.

FAQs About Gambling Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation (Rehab) in Singapore

Why Can’t I Stop Gambling?

Similar to alcohol and substance abuse, gambling exerts a similar effect on your brain. When you gamble, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine that causes you to experience feelings of euphoria. This rewarding experience encourages you to continue to gamble to experience that same feeling of pleasure again, creating favourable conditions that promote gambling addiction. Moreover, as your body continues to trigger this neurological response even when you lose a gamble, it serves as an additional barrier to deter you from quitting gambling. External interventions and treatments are often required to help individuals to recover from a gambling addiction effectively.

What is the Most Effective Treatment for Gambling Addiction?

There are various forms of treatment for gambling addiction. These may include:

  • Self-help: Often, individuals engage in gambling to cope with the pressure they experience in other aspects of life. Thus, treating your gambling addiction can involve finding different ways to manage your stress. This can include finding new activities that you enjoy doing or rekindling old hobbies.
  • Professional counselling: Identifies factors that fuel your gambling addiction before a tailored treatment plan involving psycho-education and goal-setting is formulated to address the root causes effectively.
  • Medications
  • Recovery groups: Led by experienced therapists through which you can learn skills required to develop resilience and obtain access to a support network that increases your motivation to persevere through the treatment.

Among these options, recovery is often most successful when you seek the help of third-party professionals in Singapore. This is because professionals can provide the much-needed support to help you stay on track in your journey to recovery.  The extra guidance and helpful resources they offer can also make recovery easier.

Can You Recover from Gambling?

While it may be challenging to recover from a gambling addiction, it can be achieved, and many resources and treatments are available to help you on your journey. Among them, visiting a rehab centre or seeking counselling from professionals in Singapore, such as Visions By Promises, may be the quickest ways to regain control of your life. With third parties involved to hold you accountable, it reduces the likelihood that you will give in to your old habits and drop out of your journey to recovery. With patience and perseverance, you can overcome your gambling addiction and start afresh.

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#11-15/16, Novena Medical Center, 10 Sinaran Drive,
Singapore 307608