Around 2 million people in the U.S. are addicted to gambling. For 20 million people, their gambling addiction affects their social or work life. While they are aware of the effects gambling has on themselves and others, they are often unable to stop.
If you think you might be addicted to dice and decks or suspect someone is a compulsive gambler, you don't have to struggle alone.
Online therapy is an anonymous, fast way to get support, and you can choose from a large pool of therapists who might be hard to reach in person.
What can online therapy offer you?
Research has found that counseling is more effective than medication when it comes to compulsive gambling. Working with a therapist can tackle the root of the problem, not just gambling itself. Therefore, a therapist can help you deal with whatever is pushing you to feel that adrenaline again.
What are these reasons? Some people with gambling addiction have lower levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical involved in feelings of arousal and thrill. Hence, gambling is a way for their brain to release this hormone.
Others may have mental health struggles which they try to numb by the table. People with borderline personality disorder are also prone to risky behaviors, and therefore are likely to become addicted to gambling.
In general, gambling therapy focuses on many aspects. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), particularly, helps people change their thoughts about gambling. It targets thinking errors such as superstitions or attempts to predict events with specific tactics. Moreover, it focuses on changing gambling perceptions that encourage people to keep gambling.
Gambling online therapy is no different from in-person counseling. Scientists agree that it has similar effects to in-person therapy and can sometimes speed up recovery. Here is why.
An online therapist is there for you 5–6 days a week. You can text your therapist about everyday struggles and reach for help during intense periods. Therapists often answer from one to several times a day, depending on the service.
In general, all gambling online therapy services are confidential. You can choose a safe place for your sessions or just message your therapist if you can’t find a private space.
More than that, some therapy services offer anonymous support. Many gamblers avoid their visit to the therapist because they fear opening up about their problems. Choosing a nickname and talking about your situation in messages helps people distance themselves from guilt and open up easier.
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How Does Online Therapy for Gambling Work?
Let's look at how online CBT works. If you are a gambler prone to addiction, you might follow these thinking patterns:
- You think you have a better chance of winning than expected by chance or that rituals can bring you luck.
- If you win twice, it means you are lucky tonight, and you should raise your bets.
- Certain numbers are more likely to come up than others.
- After losing, the only way to get the money back is by gambling more.
CBT helps you work on these false assumptions, and eventually, you will learn how to stop gambling or spend less time or money on it.
Other Ways to Treat Gambling Addiction
Sometimes, therapy alone may not be enough. Let’s look at other treatment options.
Self-exclusion programs allow you to ban yourself from the casinos you attend. If you enter these casinos, you can get yourself arrested; the casinos won't pay you the winnings either. All casinos belonging to the American Gaming Association have to offer self-exclusion as an option.
Family members can also request a ban even if the gambler doesn't agree, though the process may be more difficult. Sometimes, families will have to provide proof that the addiction has caused severe financial hardship.
If you are an online gambler, you can use website-blocking software. These programs won't let you open a gambling website on your computer or phone. Many businesses also block online gambling sites, so you won't have to worry about having gambling options.
However, the main reason why self-exclusion is effective is not that it eliminates all chances of gambling. It mainly improves the state of those who made a determined decision to change.
Sometimes, medications can help with gambling addiction. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers can reduce the symptoms of underlying problems or gambling itself. Narcotic antagonists used to treat substance abuse might also help.
Attending anonymous gambler groups can help control gambling addiction and prevent relapse. Being around other people who experience the same struggles is a great source of motivation and support.
Impatient or Outpatient Treatment Programs
Depending on your needs and resources, you can also choose to attend outpatient or residential treatment programs created specifically for gambling problems. Participation in these programs teaches participants how to stop gambling and how to control urges. Just like in therapy, these programs take into account any mental health struggles.
How to Talk with a Loved One About Their Gambling Addiction?
If you suspect a person close to you is addicted to gambling, look for these symptoms:
- Gambling with increasing amounts of money
- Might be lying about the extent of gambling
- Gambling to make up for previous losses
- Repeatedly failing to control or stop gambling
- Ignoring work or family to gamble
- Using the money meant for bills or household expenses to gamble
- Borrowing or stealing money or selling possessions to pay off gambling debts
Before the talk, remember that in the end, it's their choice. Be prepared to hear a negative answer no matter how good your arguments are.
- Educate yourself about addiction. Try not to assume things. Instead, learn how addiction develops and what the person might be feeling.
- While talking, choose an emphatic tone. Instead of saying: "Don't you see what your addiction did?" say something like: "I know you are having a hard time now, and I would like to help somehow."
- Try to be as respectful as possible. Instead of blaming, try to inform about feelings and how you see the situation.
- Suggest options that might interest them, such as anonymous support, but don't tell them what to do.
Gambling addiction is a difficult life challenge, but receiving professional help increases your success in regaining control over your life. If you are struggling with gambling, don’t hesitate – online therapy is a comfortable, effective, and scientifically proven way to get help.