Gambling Addiction: What It Is, How It’s Treated and How to Choose the Right Rehab



 Published July 23, 2018


 Professionally Reviewed By Kayla Gill

Gambling addiction is more common than most people realize—it’s a global problem that’s only getting worse. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on gambling addiction due to its “unprecedented growth.”1 The WHO stressed the need to extend and enhance treatment for problem gambling. The good news is, while it’s undoubtedly a serious concern, this addiction is proven to be treatable. Here, we’ll outline available treatment options and what to look for in a gambling addiction treatment center if you or someone you love needs help.

When Is Gambling an Addiction?

Gambling addiction is markedly different from taking an occasional trip to the casino—the impulse to bet, play and win is too strong to control. Those suffering from gambling addiction experience a compulsive urge to bet despite the increasingly negative consequences it carries. With problem gambling, winning provides a sense of euphoria and pleasure that serves as a short-term high. When a gambling addict loses, they begin to chase their losses, trying to win back the money (and pleasure) they lost—resulting in a cycle that’s very difficult to escape.

Sign and Symptoms of Gambling Impulse-Control Disorder

If you’re addicted to gambling, you’ve likely experienced some of these symptoms:

  • Gambling to counteract negative emotions
  • Irritability or restlessness when not gambling
  • Efforts to be secretive about gambling
  • Not being able to stop, chasing losses
  • Obsessing about the next big win
  • Betting more than you can afford

If gambling causes you to lose significant time, money or relationships, this is indicative of compulsive gambling, a disorder that can significantly impact many areas of your life.

Research shows problem gamblers are twice as likely to be depressed as those who don’t have a gambling problem.


Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse

Pathological gambling often coexists with other addictions or mental health concerns. In fact, one recent report states that problem gamblers are four times more likely to abuse alcohol2 than those without a gambling problem. Common cross-addictions include gambling with alcoholism and gambling with cocaine addiction, which often go hand-in-hand because of the environments in which people typically gamble, like casinos and parties.

Depression, Anxiety and Pathological Gambling

Gambling impulse-control disorder is also often associated with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. In fact, problem gamblers are twice as likely to be depressed3 as those who don’t have a gambling problem.

For those struggling with depression or anxiety, gambling can artificially mitigate negative feelings in the moment. But over time, this cycle—feeling depressed or anxious, self-medicating with gambling, eventually losing a bet which leads to even more intense negative feelings, and gambling to combat that depressed or anxious state—gets out of control, and often requires professional treatment to overcome.

Treatment Methods for Gambling Addiction

As problem gambling becomes increasingly widespread, addiction experts work to find innovative and effective treatments, as well as honing time-tested, evidence-based therapy tools. Here are some popular treatment options:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and effective treatment options for process addictions like gambling. Gambling addiction functions on two levels: automatic and irrational thought patterns, and malfunctioning in the brain’s reward system. CBT works to address both.

The first goal of CBT for gambling addiction4 is to weaken the compulsion to gamble and give you a sense of mastery over this urge. Then, specialized clinicians help you understand, on a neurochemical level, that the long-term negative impacts of gambling far outweigh the short-term pleasure it delivers. Eventually, you’ll be able to employ the healthy strategies you learn in treatment to real-life scenarios.


In addition to CBT, counselors sometimes prescribe medications to help curb the compulsive behaviors attached to gambling impulse-control disorder. Indeed, the medication most often used to treat gambling addictions are those used to treat other compulsive disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Medication is most effective when used in combination with CBT.

Group Therapy

Group therapy, available both on-site at treatment centers and in the form of fellowships like Gamblers Anonymous, is a truly healing treatment option for gambling addiction. In this setting, you’ll benefit from sharing your story with others, learning you’re not alone and receiving support from those with common experiences. You’ll also have the opportunity to form lasting relationships with people who understand what you’re going through and support your recovery progress.

Holistic Therapies

Holistic modalities like meditation, yoga and massage are a great complement to conventional addiction treatments. Ideally, they should be employed alongside conventional methods like CBT. Holistic therapies encourage healing on all levels for a well-rounded outcome and accelerate your treatment progress. Meditation, for instance, creates a sense of security and mental calm that can help you open up in talk therapy.

Group therapy lets participants share their stories with others with similar experiences, reinforcing the knowledge that you’re not alone.


How to Choose a Gambling Addiction Rehab

Gambling is a complex disorder that has far-reaching effects in all aspects of your life. Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist and gambling treatment expert, explains, “There is no one size fits all treatment. However, treatment always begins with recognizing the problem. The next step to reclaiming sanity and stability is to see a counselor for an evaluation and a treatment plan.” She recommends a multifaceted gambling addiction treatment approach5 that involves a combination of CBT, treatment for co-occurring disorders, social and family support, medication-assisted recovery and financial help.

There are plenty of available options for addressing problem gambling, with many luxury rehabs offering robust programming that’s focused specifically on this complex disorder. As a precursor to your treatment, consider the following factors:

Who Should Assess Your Situation and Recommend Treatment Options?

You’ve probably heard of various treatment options, like inpatient, outpatient, day treatment and so forth. While inpatient rehab is more intensive and provides a more substantial removal from your triggers, outpatient rehab allows you to continue working, spending time with your family and otherwise attending to your usual responsibilities while in treatment. How do you know which one to pick? The good news is you don’t have to, nor should you. Let a professional conduct a comprehensive clinical evaluation or assessment and provide treatment recommendations accordingly. Primary care physicians can screen for gambling disorder or you can seek out a private therapist or psychiatrist to assess your situation and history. Some treatment centers offer evaluations, conducted by licensed clinicians, separately and will either recommend their services if they are a fit or refer you elsewhere.

Is the Treatment Center Specialized in Gambling Disorders?

When choosing a rehab, specialization is always an important consideration. Addiction is an insidious disorder that functions on multiple levels—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual—and it requires a laser-focused expert approach to unpack. Make sure your rehab has licensed clinicians with experience specifically treating gambling addiction and that they can customize your treatment plan to fit your needs.

Do You Want Holistic Therapy Options?

Successful gambling addiction treatment goes well beyond the initial 28 days. It’s about making changes in your thinking and lifestyle that improve your overall well-being. Choosing a rehab that offers holistic therapies as well as conventional methods ensures you have access to a more complete treatment for your body, mind and spirit. To make the most of your time in rehab, you may want access to activities that keep you relaxed, present and more receptive to treatment.

Finding High-Quality Gambling Addiction Treatment at a Luxury Rehab

Luxury rehab centers have the ability to offer you the best in treatment, addiction experts, location and facilities. High-end rehabs also tend to have a lower staff-to-patient ratio, allowing for more attention and personalized care—all of which has a profound impact on your recovery. For more information on some the best treatment centers worldwide, visit our directory of luxury gambling addiction treatment centers here.

  1. Max, Abbott. The Epidemiology and Impact of Gambling Disorder and Other Gambling-Related Harm. Discussion paper, WHO Forum on Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours, 26 June 2017 []
  2. Petry, N. M., Rash, C. J., & Blanco, C. (2010). The Inventory of Gambling Situations in problem and pathological gamblers seeking alcohol and drug abuse treatment. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 18(6), 530–538. []
  3. Harrison, Dan. “Gambling Linked to Depression.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 June 2008, []
  4. Okuda, M., Balán, I., Petry, N. M., Oquendo, M., & Blanco, C. (2009). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for pathological gambling: cultural considerations. The American journal of psychiatry, 166(12), 1325–1330. []
  5. Marie Hartwell-Walker Ed.D. “Treatment for Gambling Addiction.” Psych Central, 20 Apr. 2017, []

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