When you think of gambling, you may think of a good time. While that’s true for many, gambling can become a problem for some. Gambling disorder, also known as gambling addiction, can be devastating financially and emotionally. As with other addictions, many of those experiencing gambling disorder have underlying mental health conditions. For treatment to be effective, both the addiction and the underlying condition need to be addressed. Read on to learn more about gambling disorder, mental health, and how to find help and hope. 

Understanding Gambling Disorder

Gambling disorder can be easier to hide than some other addictions. It might not be obvious to family and friends who aren’t tied to you financially. That said, it can have serious repercussions for your financial life, making it challenging to keep up with bills and leading to excessive debt. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. 

It can also have health consequences, according to The Biopsychosocial Consequences of Pathological Gambling by Timothy W. Fong, which appeared in Psychiatry MMC (gambling disorder was referred to as pathological gambling in the past). Gambling disorder causes enormous stress, and stress has a serious impact on our health. Potential health consequences include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, difficulty sleeping, and ulcers. 

What makes gambling disorder more complicated is that it is often tied to other mental health conditions. The gambling disorder may provide some relief from the mental health condition, or the mental health issue may be a result of the gambling disorder. 

Gambling Disorder and Mental Health

What mental health conditions commonly occur with gambling disorder? According to Fong, they include:

  • Depression. A review of studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found a high prevalence of depression in those with gambling disorder. Some studies found that 50% or more of those with gambling disorder also experienced depression. If depression existed before the gambling disorder, gambling might be a way to self-medicate. For others, depression may be a result of the feelings associated with excessive gambling.
  • Anxiety. A survey cited by a Harvard Mental Health Letter on anxiety and gambling found that more than 11% of those with gambling disorder also had generalized anxiety disorder. For some, anxiety is temporarily relieved by gambling, which serves as an escape from life’s stresses and responsibilities. For others, anxiety is a result of gambling. After losses, some may feel an urgent need to gamble more to try and recover their money. 
  • Bipolar disorder. This disorder causes unexpected shifts in mood and energy levels, which impact concentration and being able to carry out daily activities. There are three types of bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People with bipolar disorder have a higher rate of gambling disorder than the general population, according to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders. For those who experience both bipolar disorder and gambling disorder, bipolar disorder usually comes first, according to The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Gambling may be used to self-medicate during depressive episodes or it may be part of the impulsiveness associated with manic episodes.  
  • Substance use disorder. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that over 70% of those with gambling disorder also had alcohol use disorder and over 38% had a drug use disorder. Substance use disorder can lead to health issues and can be fatal if there’s an overdose.

On its own, gambling disorder might not seem like a big deal, but it can be just as devastating as any other addiction. According to a survey in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 12% of those being treated for gambling disorder had at least one gambling-related suicide attempt, and 48% had a history of gambling-related suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide). 

Treatment and Recovery

Whether you have a gambling disorder, another mental health condition, or a combination of the two, recovery is possible. It all starts by finding an understanding, experienced mental health provider. The first step is an evaluation, which is when you talk with a clinician about your symptoms and experiences. From there, your clinician will make treatment recommendations that make sense for you and your situation. 

At Associated Behavioral Health, we’ve been helping patients since 1995. We’re one of the largest outpatient treatment providers in the Greater Seattle area, and we’ve helped many people experiencing gambling addiction to find recovery. We also offer TMS therapy, which is a ground-breaking treatment for depression, as well as treatment for substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. We’re offering in-patient and online telehealth options.

Ready to learn more? Contact us today.