5 Ways To Overcome A Gambling Addiction

In the 1968 film “Funny Girl,” Barbra Streisand’s character falls in love with Nick Arnstein, a dashing con artist whose reckless gambling causes them to lose their mansion, savings, and finally, their marriage.

When the movie first came out, Nick’s gambling problem was seen as just that — a problem. It wasn’t until 1980 that pathological gambling was identified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. At the time, roughly 1.1 million Americans engaged in problematic or compulsive gambling; today, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that between 5.4 and 8.1 million adults meet the criteria for gambling addiction.

Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mt. Sinai, says that like drug addicts, problem gamblers are unable to stop gambling even when the behavior becomes destructive. “They’ll do it at the cost of losing their job, destroying their relationships, or losing their money,” she says. “Gambling addicts just can’t seem to stop themselves from engaging in this negative or detrimental behavior.”

Problem gamblers aren’t only a danger to themselves — the NCPG estimates that the bankruptcies, burglaries, spouse abuse, child neglect, foreclosures, and even suicide associated with gambling addiction costs the U.S. $6 billion each year.

As with all addictions, the severity of the problem varies from person to person, and there’s no set pattern for when addicts gamble (daily vs. weekly) or the medium they use. Keith Whyte, executive director of the NCPG, says that men tend to prefer sports betting and competitive skill-based games, while women are more likely to play the slot machines or bingo.

What really matters, says Berlin, is how much you’re gambling and what happens when someone tries to stop you. “It’s a spectrum,” she says. “The depth of it is really what we have to gauge. There’s no clear black or white line whether it’s pathological or not. It’s just a matter of degree.”


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