Behavioral Treatment for Gambling Addiction

Calendar icon Last Updated: 06/6/2024

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While no actual physical components drive it, a gambling addiction can take hold of a person’s life in much the same way as an alcohol or drug addiction. A loss of control over gambling can bleed into work life and relationships just like any other type of addiction. This leaves the mind and its thinking patterns as the main driving forces behind the addition. Likewise, treatment for gambling addiction relies heavily on behavioral approaches that help a person break the addiction by breaking the thinking patterns that feed it.

A “Process” Addiction

treatment for gambling addiction

Finding treatment for gambling addiction doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

A process addiction is an uncontrollable urge to do something repeatedly in spite of how it affects your social and/or financial well-being. Gambling addictions fit the bill to a tee. Rather than the combined physical and mental urges brought on by substance abuse addictions, process addictions are behavior-based in terms of the behavior itself as the main driver of the addiction.

Because of this behavioral component, treatment for gambling addiction relies heavily on behavioral therapies. The rush and excitement (or “high”) gambling brings works in much the same way as the high experienced from doing drugs. Instead of a physical high driving the addiction, a person’s actions and choices set the addiction in motion when it comes to gambling. Treatment for gambling addiction focuses on replacing the actions and choices that trigger gambling with more productive ones.

Behavior Therapy

As treatment for gambling addiction centers around eliminating destructive gambling behaviors, behavior therapies (based on the classical conditioning model) are a commonly used treatment approach. According to the University of North Texas Libraries resource site, behavior therapy may involve one or more of three different techniques:

  • Aversion therapy
  • Imaginal desensitization
  • In vivo exposure

When used as a treatment for gambling addiction, aversion therapy uses an unpleasant stimulus, such as a small electric shock or loud noise to recondition a person’s response to gambling behavior.

Imaginal desensitization involves using relaxation techniques and visualization exercises to change a person’s physical response to gambling activities. Like imaginal desensitization, in vivo approaches combine relaxation techniques with the actual experience of gambling to recondition a person’s physical response.

Treatment for gambling addiction typically takes place in either individual or group therapy settings as part of a treatment program.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

While behavior therapy approaches work directly on a person’s gambling behaviors, cognitive behavioral therapy targets the underlying belief systems that fuel a gambling addiction. As a treatment for gambling addiction, the cognitive behavioral approach seeks to help a person see gambling in a different way. By changing a person’s underlying belief system, thoughts and behaviors naturally follow suit.

Cognitive behavioral therapy also addresses other underlying issues that may feed a gambling addiction, such as unresolved problems surrounding a person’s self-image, relationships with others and mental health problems. By working through any unresolved issues, a person has no reason to use gambling as an escape outlet.

As part of a cognitive behavioral treatment for gambling addiction, participants also confront any irrational beliefs they may have about gambling and the actual risks involved. Since a gambling addiction functions as a behavior-based, process addiction, behavior-based treatments work best when it comes to breaking the addiction’s hold on a person’s life.