Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Treating Gambling Addiction

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Algamus is proud to announce that 2022 marks 30 years of treating gambling addiction. From our humble beginnings to now having treated thousands of individuals, we have learned and observed so much over the course of three decades that have helped us shape Algamus into what it is today. 

10 Lessons We’ve Learned About Treating Gambling Addiction

 

1. A Gambling Addiction is Easy to Hide

Gambling addiction is a unique addiction in the sense that there are no physical signs of the addiction. They do not slur their speech, stagger when they walk, or have any signs of physical wear on their body.

On the contrary, gambling addicts often look very normal and even well put-together. There are also no obvious indications directly after a person has gambled. They don’t smell like substances, or have glazed eyes. This makes it easy for gamblers to hide their addiction from their closest family and friends. 

However, internally, a gambling addiction is as serious as any substance addiction. 

2. The Need for Gambling-Specific Treatment

There are very few gambling-specific treatment programs in the United States, but we believe that gambling-specific programs are essential. 

Gamblers who are intermingled with drug and alcohol addicts often find that they are unable to identify with anyone, and the staff are not well-trained in treating gambling disorders. Gamblers need to attend Gamblers Anonymous, but often the only meetings available at treatment centers is Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is not enough to substitute the word “alcohol” for “gambling,” since they are two very different addictions, and need to be treated differently. 

3. It’s Beneficial for Gamblers to Get Out of Their Home Environment 

For individuals with a gambling addiction, it is very beneficial for them to step out of their regular lives for at least a month. They need to get away from the stressors of their home environment, whether it be financial, relational, or job-related stressors.

This allows clients to devote the time needed to focus on themselves and their recovery.

 

4. Gambling Addiction is Often Accompanied by a Mental Illness

Many of our clients come to treatment with some level of depression, and some with clinical depression, anxiety, or PTSD. We learned early on that incorporating exercise into the treatment program was essential for producing endorphins which helps reduce the effects of depression without the need for medication. 

We offer a variety of treatment methods that help treat the underlying mental health disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness, yoga, physical exercise, Gamblers Anonymous meetings, and more. 

5. The Importance of Gamblers Anonymous Meetings

Treatment is about the process of self-discovery, and Gamblers Anonymous is about the sustained long-term recovery. We get people in treatment that have some level of social anxiety that keeps them from attending Gamblers Anonymous before attending treatment. 

One of our missions throughout the treatment process is to make clients feel comfortable with Gamblers Anonymous by regularly attending meetings, so that they feel comfortable attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings post-treatment in their home environment. 

One positive thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there are now many Gamblers Anonymous meetings available online, which means that you can attend a meeting from anywhere in the world, even if there are no in-person meetings in your hometown.

6. Longer Treatment Durations Increase the Likelihood of Success

The success outcomes increase the longer the person stays in residential treatment. However, we also believe that the best residential treatment is only as strong as the aftercare treatment. So many treatment programs leave the client to fend for themselves the moment they are done at treatment. 

At Algamus, we work with every client and to establish a written aftercare plan that serves as a guide for their post-treatment recovery. We always refer them to a gambling-informed therapist in their home environment, and a referral to Gamblers Anonymous meetings in their area.

We also highly encourage remaining in weekly contact with an Algamus staff member for at least the first 90 days, and monthly contact for the first year after treatment. 

 

7. Understanding the Addicted Brain

Over the years, we have learned about how the addicted brain works, which helps us treat our clients more effectively. When a person is addicted to something, their brain chemistry is altered, which can lead to a dopamine deficiency, and other major issues.

We at Algamus are fortunate to have a diverse group of staff members, including a clinical psychologist, who are well-trained in understanding and effectively treating gambling addiction.

man distressed over pile of bills

 

8. The Financial Devastation of Gambling Addiction

The financial devastation of a gambling addiction is deeper than any other addiction. In the case of a gambling addiction, money is the drug. Gambling is also the only addiction where you can potentially “win” your drug (earn money if you continue gambling). 

Gamblers often believe that if they can just win back the money that they have lost, that they will quit gambling. However, it is not actually the winning that they are addicted to, they are addicted to the mere action of gambling. The gambler is a drug addict – but the drug is manufactured in their brain to create a dopamine high, and they must gamble every day to maintain the high. 

 

9. Sports Betting Addiction is on the Rise

Several years ago, we were seeing a large proportion of clients who were addicted to poker specifically, and believed that they were professional poker players. 

Now, we are seeing a tremendous surge in the amount of online sports gamblers who are seeking treatment. This is partially due to the legalization of sports betting in many states across the country, and the fact that placing bets online is easier than it’s ever been, and we expect that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.  

 

10. There are Greater Highs in Life Than the Highs from Gambling

When you decide to give up a life of gambling, you may think that you have to accept the fact that you will never again experience the intense highs that you got when gambling. 

However, our staff members who are in recovery from gambling addiction, have found that that’s not the case. They have experienced spiritual highs of helping others and watching them accomplish their goals.

It is so gratifying to watch people with badly broken lives be able to repair their lives and become high-functioning, incredible individuals. 

We at Algamus hope to continue serving men and women with all types of gambling disorders for many years to come. The longer we are in operation, the more we learn about gambling addiction, and how we can best help individuals become free from the ties of gambling and reach their full potential. 

For a more in-depth look at what we have learned in the past 30 years, check out our 30 Years of Recovery Milestones eBook. 

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If you have questions about gambling addiction, or are ready to begin the treatment process, speak to one of our gambling counsellors.