Treating compulsive gambling can be challenging. That's partly because most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem. Yet a major part of treatment is working on acknowledging that you're a compulsive gambler.
If your family or your employer pressured you into therapy, you may find yourself resisting treatment. But treating a gambling problem can help you regain a sense of control — and it may help heal damaged relationships or finances.
Treatment for compulsive gambling involves three main approaches:
- Psychotherapy. Psychological treatments, such as behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, may be beneficial for compulsive gambling. Behavior therapy uses systematic exposure to the behavior you want to unlearn (gambling) and teaches you skills to reduce your urge to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones.
- Medications. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help treat problems that often go along with compulsive gambling — such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or ADHD — but not necessarily compulsive gambling itself. Medications called narcotic antagonists, which have been found useful in treating substance abuse, may help treat compulsive gambling.
- Self-help groups. Some people find self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, a helpful part of treatment.
Even with treatment, you may return to gambling, especially if you spend time with people who gamble or you're in gambling environments. If you feel that you'll start gambling again, contact your mental health provider or sponsor right away to head off a full-blown relapse.
Feb. 12, 2014
- Gambling disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed Aug. 26, 2013.
- Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/changes%20from%20dsm-iv-tr%20to%20dsm-5.pdf. Accessed Aug. 26, 2013.
- Questions and answers about Gamblers Anonymous. Gamblers Anonymous. http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/content/questions-answers-about-gamblers-anonymous. Accessed Aug. 26, 2013.
- Unwin BK, et al. Pathologic gambling. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 26, 2013.
- Schneekloth TD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 2, 2013.
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