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Is Your Gambling a Disorder that Needs to be Treated?

Read more about problem gambling and how to get help

Gambling, a pastime enjoyed by many, can vary from an occasional flutter to a compulsive habit. While it’s a source of entertainment for most, for some, it becomes a problematic behavior that disrupts life. Understanding when gambling shifts from being a harmless activity to a disorder requiring treatment is crucial.

Understanding Gambling Disorder

Gambling disorder, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5, is characterized by a pattern of gambling behavior that leads to significant impairment or distress. It includes a persistent need to gamble, difficulty controlling the behavior, and continuation of gambling despite adverse consequences. This disorder is often driven by a combination of psychological, biological, and social factors.

The transition from recreational gambling to a disorder involves various psychological pathways. It can start as a harmless pursuit but gradually turns into an addiction due to various factors, including the thrill of risk-taking, the escape from reality, or the pursuit of financial gain.

Identifying Signs of Problem Gambling

Recognizing the signs of problem gambling is the first step toward understanding whether it has become a disorder. These signs may include:

  1. Preoccupation with Gambling: Spending excessive time thinking about gambling or planning the next gambling venture.
  2. Increasing Bets: The need to bet more money to achieve the desired level of excitement.
  3. Unsuccessful Attempts to Stop: Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
  4. Restlessness or Irritability When Trying to Stop: Feeling restless or irritable when attempting to decrease or stop gambling.

The impact of gambling disorder extends beyond financial loss. It can strain relationships, interfere with work, and lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Evidence-Based Treatments for Gambling Disorder

Effective treatments for gambling disorder have been identified through extensive research. According to “Treatment of gambling disorder: review of evidence-based aspects for best practice” (Curr Opin Psychiatry, 2021), the most successful treatment protocols are psychological interventions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI) are particularly effective. These methods focus on altering the thought patterns and behaviors associated with gambling and enhancing motivation to change.

CBT, for instance, helps individuals identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs about gambling, develop problem-solving skills, and learn how to cope with triggers. MI, on the other hand, is centered around resolving ambivalence and enhancing intrinsic motivation to change behavior.

The Efficacy of Different Treatment Approaches

The systematic review titled “A systematic review of treatments for problem gambling” (Psychol Addict Behav, 2017) further expands on the variety of treatment approaches for gambling disorder. This review identified 21 randomized trials, with a focus on the efficacy of various treatment modalities, including cognitive therapies and brief interventions.

The review underscores the benefits of cognitive and behavioral therapies, both in multisession in-person therapy and minimal intervention formats. While most studies reported short-term benefits of these therapies, the long-term effectiveness varied. Notably, the severity of the gambling disorder and the treatment setting played a role in the efficacy of these interventions.

Boston woman playing slots - gambling addiction

The Role of Psychological Therapies in Managing Gambling Addiction

The importance of psychological therapies in treating gambling disorders is further emphasized in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews’ article “Psychological therapies for pathological and problem gambling” (2012). This review highlights the effectiveness of therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy in managing problem gambling. These therapies are tailored to address the unique psychological aspects of gambling addiction, helping individuals understand and modify their behavior and thought patterns related to gambling.

Moreover, these therapies are not one-size-fits-all solutions. They are often customized to meet the specific needs of the individual, taking into account factors like the severity of the addiction, the presence of co-occurring disorders, and personal circumstances. Such a personalized approach ensures that the treatment is more effective and resonates more with the individual undergoing therapy.

Seeking Help and Support

Acknowledging the need for help and seeking support is a crucial step in addressing gambling addiction. Atlantic Behavioral Health provides comprehensive support and treatment for gambling disorders, offering a range of services from individual therapy to group support. It’s important for individuals struggling with gambling addiction to understand that they are not alone, and help is available.

In seeking treatment, individuals should consider various factors, including the severity of their gambling problem, their personal preferences for treatment (such as individual vs. group therapy), and any underlying mental health conditions that may need to be addressed concurrently.


Recognizing and treating gambling as a disorder is a significant step towards recovery. The evidence presented in academic research, including the studies from Current Opinion in Psychiatry and Psychological Addictive Behaviors, underscores the effectiveness of various treatment approaches, especially psychological therapies. Atlantic Behavioral Health is committed to providing tailored and effective treatment plans for those struggling with problem gambling.

Gambling disorder is a complex issue, but with the right support and treatment, recovery is attainable. We encourage anyone who recognizes the signs of problem gambling in themselves or a loved one to reach out for help.

Want to learn more?

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, Atlantic Behavioral Health is here to help. Visit our problem gambling treatment service page to learn more about our treatment options, or contact us directly to start your journey towards recovery.


  1. “Treatment of gambling disorder: review of evidence-based aspects for best practice”, Curr Opin Psychiatry, 2021.
  2. “A systematic review of treatments for problem gambling”, Psychol Addict Behav, 2017.
  3. “Psychological therapies for pathological and problem gambling”, Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2012.

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