Gambling addiction is less common than some of the other types of addictions. But the way gambling addiction affects the lives of those afflicted is quite similar to lives of those affected by other addictions. Often gambling starts out as an innocent source of entertainment. However, the pleasure of winning activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as do cocaine and heroin. Dopamine is the most commonly affected neurotransmitter when the person experiences pleasure. Dopamine levels increase by several folds during the times the gambler enjoys even a small victory.
The second phase of this addiction, which often leads to formation of gambling as a predicted behavior is the natural tendency that all humans have, where pleasurable behavior is rewarding, and therefore the person “learns” of gambling as a rewarding behavior.
The third phase of this addiction is often noted by avoidance of a painful experience, in this case loosing. Once loosing occurs, which is always expected to happen, the addicted person experiences the opposite of reward: they experience punishment. However, the person quickly “learns” that the best way to avoid he painful feelings of losing (punishment) is to engage in what was once rewarding: more gambling. And so the roller coaster begins, and gambling turns into one strongly formed type of addiction. The addiction receives its strength both by the activation of the reward center in the brain (when one wins) and by the temporary avoidance the painful emotions (punishment of losing) by doing more gambling.
Something else that also happens along the way is the formation of some type of magical thinking. For example, gamblers often believe they have formed some type of cause and effect relationship between their gambling and their winning incidences. Wearing a lucky shirt, betting in progressively larger amounts of bets, and going in on certain days of the week or certain hours of the day, are among the magical thinking patterns.
Gambling, similarly to addictions to substances, can lead to secondary physical and mental illnesses. Sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, problems with concentration and interpersonal conflicts in one’s home and work environment are to name a few. Sexual dysfunction, elevated blood pressure, body pain and fatigue, inflammation and digestive issues are also among the physical issues reported. And the most obvious of all: financial problems are also noted.
Psychologists at the Feeling Good Therapy and Training Center of Fremont, begin the treatment of gambling by learning first hand from the affected person, how gambling has negatively affected their specific circumstances. Gambling is a “catch-all” phrase, but how it affects each person is specific and one of a kind. During the second phase of the treatment, psychologists at the Feeling Good Therapy and Training Center use advanced application of cognitive behavioral therapy to help the person recognize the advantages and disadvantages of gambling behavior. Surprisingly, there can be some reasons why the gambler might want to continue the gambling behavior: not having to maintain a lower paying job, not wishing to forego the excitement, not wishing to live a dull sounding life style compared to that of the gambling arenas.
During the final phase of treatment, psychologists at the Feeling Good Therapy and Training Center help the patient in organizing a clear and well described behavioral and cognitive game plan to be put in place of the old addictive ones. Similarly to other forms of addictions, medications and some other fancy mental stimulations such as electrodes and shocks are avoided, and treatment for gambling is done from the inside of the mind when the person is 100% committed to overcoming the gambling problems that have negatively affected their health.