To understand whether or not cognitive behavioral therapy works for gambling addiction or not, we must first understand what it is and how it is connected to addiction recovery.
We often hear of the adage where people tell us to talk about our problems. Some of us can and some of us can’t. For those of us who can, talk therapy can help with issues. Think of cognitive behavioral therapy as therapy, where through conversation with an objective and trained professional, a change in thought and behavior is brought about. The word cognitive comes from the root word cog, which means knowledge or thinking.
At the heart of CBT is the belief that if you change the way you act and the way you think, you can get a handle on your problems. The idea is that outlook, opinions and assumptions affect behavior and feelings. No wonder then that this therapy is used to treat people with depression and anxiety. Not only does the therapy try and understand why we do what we do, but also provides us with coping mechanisms to aid recovery. So, cognitive behavioral therapy is a combination of thoughts and actions- a way to change your thoughts to change your behavior.
There are many reasons for gambling addiction. Many of the consequences of addiction are also the cause for it- for instance a person loses his job, a marriage breaks up, there’s a missed educational or work opportunity. A person in any of these situations feels anxious and depressed. In a bid to get his/her life back on track, they may take to gambling.
Gambling often has deep-seated issues which need to be addressed and acknowledged. Often, recovery begins from there. Sometimes, gambling and the need for it is a cultural thing. There are festivals and other occasions where gambling is expected and celebrated. At times like this, seeing the compulsion as an issue can take time and patient probing. There has to be a way of keeping with the norms of society and culture but also effecting change.
The symptoms of compulsive gambling are many and if you identify the symptoms you will be able to know whether the person is a compulsive gambler or not. A compulsive gambler will not let go of any opportunity to gamble. He or she will always be on the look out for opportunities to gamble. It may not be at a casino, they may get their highs from just betting about the weather or about anything in general. When they are advised not to indulge in betting they may withdraw into a shell or throw temper tantrums. Over time they may develop anger issues or severe depression. Most compulsive gamblers feel they cannot control the urge to gamble. The urge always catches up and in such cases they do things which they normally would not do. For example, compulsive gamblers can get into a serious debt trap as they do not mind taking more debt just to get that one big win. When the big win evades them they try to recoup the losses and take more debts and this is one huge circle which will never end.
Gambling may be accompanied with a compulsion to lie. This may be a sign of a pathological issue that the gambler may not even be aware of. This compulsion is due to the urge to gamble. When people they love tell them not to gamble and also advise them, they tend to lie to them so that they can continue with their gambling without hurting the feelings of their loved ones. Also they may make some financial decisions which could hurt their loved ones too and to reduce the hurt they may continue lying.
Other times it could be an obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, bipolar disorder or ADHD. Sometimes there are emotional issues, resulting from childhood abuse or trauma. All these can be worked through with talk therapy. Most gamblers tend to talk when they feel that the person is genuinely interested. The behavior therapist will be able to make them talk about their past and their urges and then help them dispel the urges over time.
Apart from Gamblers Anonymous, CBT is often suggested as a way to overcome gambling compulsion. In the process of conversation, the therapist may offer different tasks to replace the need to gamble. It could range from taking up hobbies, like rock climbing and hiking, to enrolling in social clubs, attending counselling, exercising, meditation and communication activities.
Given the inclusive nature of the treatment, the fact that the gambler feels vested and involved, that he or she has not only been given directions and told what to do, but is actually connected to the entire process, makes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a great treatment option for gambling addiction.