Pathological gambling is considered as an impulse control disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. As an impulse control disorder, this implies that the person with this problem is unable to limit the money and time spent in gambling and this has already affected the other areas of his life. A person with pathological gambling problem may exhibit the following characteristics: has difficult, or even abusive relationships, with his significant others; evident financial strains due to diverting all his available funds to his gambling bankroll; mood swings that follow their gambling streak i.e. euphoria in winning streaks and depression and frustration upon repeatedly losing.
Some studies show that pathological gambling exhibits a similar reaction to one’s body as chemical addiction. It was observed that pathological gamblers have a lower level of norepinephrine in their bodies which they need to increase. Normally, norepinephrine is secreted by the body whenever it is under stress, arousal or thrill. Pathological gamblers experience all these whenever they engage in gambling activities. Another study shows that experiences of winning in gambling-like experiments produces brain activity that is very similar to a cocaine addict taking in cocaine.
However, there are ways to help someone with a pathological gambling disorder.
One way to help those with pathological gambling problems is through counseling. Counseling is delivered by professional counselors. One particular technique, the cognitive behavioral therapy, was found to be helpful in reducing the symptoms and gambling related urges. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, gamblers are able to identify the thoughts, moods and the ideas that reinforce their gambling behavior. By identifying these factors, the counselor and the person with pathological gambling problems can work on solutions. The focus of the intervention is on building skills that would help the person cope with gambling-inducing situations. Moreover, it assists the person build his problem-solving capacities and reinforce those behavior and activities that are considered to be gambling-inconsistent.
Step-based programs have also been developed for those with pathological gambling problems. Similar to step-based programs for those with alcohol drinking problems, pathological gamblers follow a step-by-step program that takes them through a journey to address the different aspect of their lives affected by their problem. This type of intervention also places emphasis on peer support, particularly on gamblers just like them. Pathological gamblers are made to realize that they are not the only one experiencing those difficulties. Gamblers also realize that people around them who were also affected by their gambling habits are willing to help them get past their gambling problems.
Self-help also works in helping people with pathological gambling problems deal with their situations by making them realize that they are empowered to make their situation better.
Medical intervention is also usually needed to help those with pathological gambling problems. However, these are only used to address the depression that gamblers may experience so that this does not lead to suicidal behavior.
No one intervention is considered to be most effective in helping those with pathological gambling problems. These interventions working together offers the best chance for gamblers to get through their situation.