International trends and practices in the psychological counseling of the gamblers with gambling disorders

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Gambling represents for most people a recreational activity, a pass-time activity and an amusing attempt of trying one’s luck, which doesn’t produce negative effects in the gamblers’ lives.
The persons who get to develop an addiction to gambling have an increased level of impulsiveness, intolerance to boringness, are in a permanent search for new sensations and these characteristics are determining them to assign more and more money to gambling, in their desperate wish to win more money, which might provide them an opulent life in the future.
There are several categories of factors which may determine the apparition of gambling addiction to some gamblers:
– Family factors, in the meaning that those who develop an addiction have had at least one gambler in their family;
– The genetic vulnerability of the gamblers who risk to become addicted;
– The existence of a personality disorder among approximately 93% from addicted gamblers;
– The irrational thoughts of these gamblers, especially the illusion that they can control the game or that they can predict the gain;
– Excessive consumption of alcohol or of psychoactive substances by the gambler;
– Excessive smoking;
– Biological factors, such as any modifications in the functioning of the reward system of the brain;
– A low education level and the existence of some problems in the gambler’s family: a low social- economic level, domicile in certain disfavored areas.
The compulsive gamblers are those whose personal and professional life is affected because of this gambling behavior: they cannot control any more the amounts of money assigned to gambling, the time spent in gambling, betting and casino halls and they develop negative emotional conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Psychologists consider that gambling addiction may be considered a money addiction, given the fact that their desire to gain more and more money brings them in the situation of gambling uncontrolled.

In what regards the treatment of gambling addiction, international studies have proven that the cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most efficient method.
There is conclusive evidence that this form of therapy brings visible improvements in the gamblers’ gambling behavior. There are several factors contributing to the efficiency of the treatment, such as: the gambler’s education level, his desire to heal and his family’s support.
The objectives of the cognitive-behavioral therapy for gambling addiction are:
– Minimization of the negative consequences manifesting in the life of the addicted gambler;
– Reduction or avoidance of the situations of risk of getting involved in an addictive behavior;
– Management of the negative emotional conditions associated to this type of behavior: depression, anxiety, stress;
– Satisfaction of one’s entertainment needs by the introduction in the gamblers life of new pleasant modalities of spending one’s free time, and which do not produce negative consequences.
There are many persons with addiction issues who avoid going to the psychologist for various reasons, such as: lack of information regarding the existence of some psychological services addressed to gambling addiction, fear of being stigmatized by the other people for their problems, mistrust in psychotherapy. International studies have proven that less than 10% from addicted gamblers turn to the professional help of a psychologist.
The problems the psychologists usually have to face during therapy with addicted gamblers are the following:
– many gamblers do not admit the fact that they have an addiction and only come to therapy to temper their families, but do not get involved in the therapy program;
– others are very impulsive, hyperactive and don’t have the patience to observe the psychologist’s prescriptions;
– a quite high percentage of gamblers give up therapy as soon as they have the impression that they have solved their problem, which makes them vulnerable in the future, when, under stressful situations, they risk to gamble compulsively again.
The specialists in the field advise that the family members of the addicted gamblers also attend a psychotherapy program, because many times they are even more affected than the gambler himself and their support is very important in the success of the therapy.
Recently, international specialists have suggested that practicing some meditation techniques of the type mindfulness has a significant impact in the reduction of the anxiety of the addicted gamblers, in the reduction of the severity of the addiction and in increasing one’s general well-being.

In what regards the medication, we obtained a reduction of impulsiveness and of the imperative urge to gamble with the help of medicines used for alcoholics and it is recommended the use of ant depressives in severe cases of depression.
According to specialized studies performed until now, the cognitive behavioral therapy has a 60-85% rate of success, and its use in combination with medication is recommendable for gamblers with high level of impulsiveness, depression and anxiety.
The addicted gamblers attending cognitive behavioral program will register the following advantages:
– will gain control over the gambling behavior;
– will learn how to manage negative emotional conditions, such as anger, depression, anxiety;
– will adopt a balanced life style. Where they will replace gambling with other recreational activities;
– will bring back calmness and harmony in their family lives;
– will know how to avoid the situations of risk of relapse into addictive behavior.
Besides psychotherapy performed in the psychologists’ practices, in certain situations online therapy is also recommended, together with interventions by phone, which have positive effects in reducing the addiction effects.
Steliana Rizeanu is Psychologist Doctor, PhD Academic Professor and psychotherapist within the Responsible Gambling program.