Gaming Disorder: Treatment of Gambling Addiction


If your gambling habits are disrupting your finances, your relationships, and your life, gambling addiction treatment can help.

Playing in casinos or buying lottery tickets can be a fun and harmless activity for some people. For others, it can be a problematic craving that negatively affects their finances, relationships, and life.

If you fall into the latter group, you are not alone. Reported 2.2% of adults and 6% to 9% of young adults have compulsive gambling habits.

Knowing the signs of gambling addiction and how to get treatment can help you stop problem gambling which can negatively affect your life.

Gaming disorder is not a personality trait. It also doesn’t mean that someone is immoral, bad with money, or doesn’t care about the damage their game can cause.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) classifies gambling disorder as a substance-related and addictive disorder.

To be diagnosed with a gaming disorder, the DSM-5 states that you must exhibit recurrent problematic gambling behavior that results in clinically significant distress or impairment for more than one year.

According to DSM-5a person can be diagnosed with gaming disorder if they have four or more of the following symptoms or behaviors:

  • having a preoccupation with gambling
  • play with increasing amounts of money
  • having an inability to cut down or stop gambling despite attempts to do so
  • feeling restless or irritable when trying to stop or cut down on gambling
  • play in times of distress, anxiety or depression
  • keep playing even after losing
  • lying to family members and others about their participation in gambling
  • commit illegal acts to fund their gambling habit
  • jeopardize or lose a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
  • relying on others for money to relieve financial problems caused by gambling

A person with a gambling disorder may feel an unmanageable compulsion to gamble, whether it’s playing slot machines or other casino games or betting on sports. They might find it hard to stop playing. They may also lie to cover up their gambling, leading to damaged relationships and large debts.

“Often referred to as a ‘secret addiction,’ most gamers can hide the extent of their devastation from family and friends until it’s too late,” says Kobie West, MS, LADC, CPGC, who works as a Certified Problem Gambling Counselor for the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gambling Center.

Some research shows that compulsive gambling may be linked to the release of dopamine in the brain, similar to substance addiction. The uncertainty of winning can create a perpetual release of dopamine during the game.

According to a 2020 review, this increased release causes dopamine desensitization, which prompts placing bigger bets to increase risk and potential reward. This is called pleasure potential.

Whatever symptoms you experience, gaming disorder can be managed and treated.

If your gambling habits are interfering with your life, several treatment options can help you manage the urge to gamble.

Treatment centers

Gambling addiction treatment centers typically offer structured recovery programs and research-based practices.

Depending on your needs, you can stay in inpatient rehabilitation centers or find outpatient programs.

Residential treatment centers generally offer the following services:

  • constant supervision by professionals
  • daily individual and group therapy sessions
  • life coaching

Schedules for outpatient programs are more flexible and don’t require you to live in the care center, so you can continue to participate in work, school, and other areas of your life.

Treatment programs vary in duration from a few weeks to several months.

12 Step Recovery Programs

Similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program, there are 12-step programs available for people with a gambling addiction. The most popular is called Gamblers Anonymous.

You will meet regularly with counselors and group members, once or several times a week. You will build a support network of people recovering from gambling addiction and understand what you are going through.


Working with a therapist can help identify unhealthy internal and family dynamic patterns that contribute to your compulsive behaviors or addictive tendencies. Therapy is a safe place to bring up sensitive topics and also develops coping skills.

A 2017 review suggests that cognitive therapy may be helpful for people living with problem gambling. Other types of therapy that can help treat gaming disorder include:

West adds that trauma-informed mindfulness therapy could also help. It can be used to recognize triggers and help people learn and apply appropriate coping skills.


In some cases, drugs may help people with addictive tendencies, although more research is needed.

A 2019 meta-analysis suggests that the following types of medications may help manage pathological gambling:

Sometimes problem gambling can stem from undiagnosed or underlying mental health issues. Seeking a diagnosis and treatment can also help you better manage your impulsive behaviors or symptoms of gambling disorder.

Support groups

“The lie that addiction tells you is that you’re on your own and no one can figure out what you’ve done and what you’ve been through,” West says. “That’s far from the truth.”

There is a lot of support and understanding available for you.

West says community support groups, like Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon, offer self-help programs for people affected by problem gambling. Participation in these programs is usually free.

“Participants can simply show up to meetings, share their experience and listen to others,” he adds.

Other peer support groups related to addiction and recovery include:

Receive support from loved ones during the recovery processcan also be curative. It can be hard to ask for help, but your family members, friends and partners care about you and want you to find relief.

Direct lines

West notes that when gambling is problematic, it can lead to significant distress for those involved.

For example, a 2021 study observed more than 1,000 adults with gambling disorders, with or without a history of suicidal behavior.

The results showed that 26.6% of the subjects reported suicidal ideation and 6.7% reported suicide attempts. Suicidal ideation was higher in women than in men and was more likely to occur in people with more severe gambling disorder.

If you are experiencing negative mental health effects from your gambling habits, helplines and support organizations are available to help. Lawyers can offer resources and assistance to help you cope or connect you with treatment options.

Some gambling addiction hotlines include:

Other specific helplines for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people can be found here.

The best therapy for gambling addiction is different for each person. It ultimately depends on your situation and your needs.

“Every trip is unique,” ​​says West. “It starts with talking to a professional.”

A doctor or therapist can screen you for your gambling addiction, refer you to a treatment center or problem gambling counselor, and develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

To avoid relapse and focus on building coping skills, it is important to commit to quitting gambling altogether.

Watching a loved one suffer the effects of persistent, unhealthy gambling can be overwhelming. But if you are emotionally available for it, there are ways for you to support them through it.

West has some helpful support tips and friendly reminders to consider below:

  • Do not enable their behaviors.
  • Try to avoid minimizing their financial damage (so they learn a lesson).
  • Don’t try to change them, control them, convince them, or bribe them for help.

Setting limits can also help you minimize the effect on your emotions and your wallet.

West suggests two approaches to take with the person you know who has a gambling problem:

  • “I love you, but your addiction is too destructive for my life, and I can’t stay anymore.”
  • “I love you. I don’t agree with what you are doing, and I hope you get help. I will stay with you, and I won’t judge you or try to control you. J just hope you come to your senses soon and get some help.

Your experience is also valid. You must choose the option that suits you best.

Gambling addiction, gambling disorder, or compulsive gambling can interfere with your life in many ways. But help is available through many different treatment options.

West says we need to de-stigmatize gambling so people with gambling disorders feel more comfortable talking about it. This is a broader conversation and a systemic effort. But if you’re wondering how to help someone with a gambling addiction, offering your love and support could be a good start.

If you want to stop gambling but are having difficulty, you may want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional.

A gambling counselor or addiction therapist can help you get to the root of your habits and manage your behaviors to live a healthier, happier life.

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