Online Gambling Addiction – Risks & Treatment

Problem gambling – a lose lose situation

Gambling addiction has changed a lot over the past 10 years. The man you see in the betting shop may indeed have a gambling problem, but today he is less typical as a problem gambler than perhaps your next door neighbour, seated in front of his computer. And the online gambing addict is much more likely to be facing serious consequences from their addiction.

There are estimated to be 360,000 – 451,000 problem gamblers in the UK and this figure is rising. 

Stuart* is a manager working for a large retailer. He wears a suit to work and has a nice apartment in town. Stuart has credit card debts of £40,000 from playing online poker and he drinks a bottle of vodka daily. His girlfriend has dumped him and his parents don’t speak to him. His employers have expressed concern at his recent poor job performance. He is staring bankruptcy in the face.

Online gambling – a fast-growing problem

Gambling, especially online gambling, is one of the fastest growing addictions in the world today. The internet provides round the clock gambling opportunities for millions of people who may never have been to a casino or to the horse races.Credit cards make it all much easier to bet large sums; you don’t even need to leave the house. Gambling is often linked to abuse of substances, particularly alcohol, cannabis & cocaine.

Financial spread betting online

There is more variety available online – poker, casinos, sports betting, bingo, lotteries, mobile phone gambling. Financial spread betting is increasingly popular but comes with a very high risk, even for financial professionals. Such bets can lead to immediate bankruptcy.

Stuart is admitted to Castle Craig with a serious gambling and alcohol addiction.  After a spell in detox, he starts to address his alcohol addiction by working through the first five steps of the AA programme. He later transfers to extended care where he begins to focus on his gambling problem.

Problem Gambling Treatment & Therapy

At Castle Craig, the Problem Gambling programme is based on a 12 step treatment model, combined with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). It follows the process of asking:

What is going on?  

Usually gamblers are not facing the reality of losing bets and they have cognitive distortions to do with luck – they are always chasing the big win.

What do I want instead?  

Self-perception – how do I see myself? Will winning bets get me the self-esteem and respect that I need? Attitude change.

How will I get what I want?  

Learning problem-solving skills such as debt management and social skills such as assertiveness and refusal, impulse control.

Be SMART

This helps the patient to establish SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to work towards.

Using this process, Stuart identified his gambling SMART goals as:

  • To abstain from gambling and all mood altering substances,
  • To get his finances under control (with help from a debt counsellor),
  • To learn coping strategies for dealing with triggers to gambling behaviour (with help from an addictions counsellor),
  • To develop a healthy new lifestyle (arranging gym sessions, looking at diet, and smoking cessation),
  • To rebuild broken relationships (with help from a family counsellor).

During his 12 week stay at Castle Craig, Stuart works towards all of his SMART goals and continues the process after discharge.  As part of his aftercare he must attend several meetings of Gamblers Anonymous where he will receive support and encouragement – he will continue to attend his local GA meeting weekly on leaving treatment. 

He has of course addressed his alcohol addiction at Castle Craig and an continuing care plan is set up for this as well.

Alcohol & drug relapse through gambling

Gambling behaviour is often linked to drug abuse, especially alcohol and/or cocaine – but addicts struggling to achieve recovery from alcohol and drugs can regard it as less important. They would be well advised not to do so. The gambling highs and lows and the strong reminders of ‘old behaviour’ are extremely potent in the brain.  A visit to the local casino or the return to internet gambling sites have been the cause of many a drugs relapse.

*Stuart is a pseudonym, created from several real case histories that we have treated at Castle Craig. For confidentiality reasons we don’t reveal the identity of our patients, but he typifies the problem gamblers which we increasingly see at Castle Craig.