Is Gambling Really a Form of Addiction?

By Sharon Moore on April 25, 2018

Previous research has considered gambling as a form of addiction but according to a new study by the University of Sydney, it may not be the case.

A lot of people believe that gambling is a form of addiction. This condition is also known as compulsive gambling. Compulsive gamblers cannot control their urges even if they know that it’s already hurting them and the people they love. When they don’t gamble, they experience unwanted psychological symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and sometimes – depression. Because of the similarities in the effect, problem gambling is grouped together with alcohol and drug addiction.

But the researchers from the University of Sydney, headed by Dr Fadi Anjoul of the Gambling Treatment Clinic, suggest that this may not be true. ‘The idea of gambling addiction is widespread, but inaccurate’, said Dr Anjoul. He explained that withdrawal which is the main indication of addiction is rarely observed among gamblers.

What is it then?

Dr Anjoul who has been helping gamblers for the past 15 years suggests that problem gambling is better thought of as a misguided obsession. This means that problem gamblers are simply dealing with incorrect choices that became habitual instead of going through the biological symptoms of withdrawal – things which are beyond a person’s control.

Identifying gambling as a misguided obsession rather than a form of addiction has important implications on the course of treatment. Since the problem mainly lies on the gambler’s inability to make informed choices and behaviours, a better treatment option would be something that deals with changing one’s perception, such as cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy can be used to help people understand how they ended up as problem gamblers and how they can change the way they think about this particular kind of obsession.

Cognitive Therapy as a Better Treatment

The difference has important implications for treatment. Poorly informed choices and behaviours can be treated with what is known as cognitive therapy, which helps people understand the story of their gambling, of how they ended up where they are, and to change how they think about their involvement in gambling.

Dr Anjoul pointed out that traditional therapies tend to focus on helping people deal with their urges as they come. The problem with this is – the symptoms tend to setback once the therapy ends or have been stopped. He has devised a new approach using cognitive therapy which will produce outcomes better than the traditional therapies. During the study, the researchers used cognitive therapy to treat problem gamblers and found that those who went through the treatment experienced fewer urges.

Prof Alex Blaszczynski, the head of University’s School of Psychology and a renowned expert on problem gambling is looking forward to assist Dr Anjoul promote the new treatment. "The results we are getting so far at the Gambling Treatment Clinic with the new cognitive therapy are extremely exciting’, he said. While the study is in its early stage, the researchers are very positive about seeing a better treatment for problem gambling in the face of cognitive therapy.

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