Psychiatrists link gambling addiction to depression

Mental health experts have urged Nigerians addicted to gambling to seek help, noting that gambling addiction should not be ignored because it could lead to serious mental health problems.

Gambling addiction, they warned could trigger depression and anxiety, adding that it could even spark suicidal thoughts.

Gambling, especially sports betting, has become more popular in Nigeria, in recent times, with the establishment of many sports betting companies. Many Nigerians, both young and old have now embraced sports betting.

The experts noted that unknown to many people gambling addiction may have dire mental health consequences if not properly and promptly addressed.

They explained that gambling addiction is often fuelled by the quest for a shortcut to wealth due to a lack of the tools for upward social mobility, adding that it usually becomes a habit over time.

They also explained that there are people who engage in compulsive and social gambling. Compulsive gambling, they said, stemmed from addiction while the latter is just a harmless social habit, adding that gambling addiction could be influenced by parents, friends, peer pressure, and could also be triggered by some medications.

Speaking with our correspondent, the experts, United Kingdom-based Psychiatrist, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Dr. Jide Jeje, and Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Registrar, Redeemers University, Joshua Ogunsemi, said that it is in the best interest of the society to address the remote and immediate causes of gambling addiction and them.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Jeje said that sometimes people gamble because they are hoping to hit the jackpot and provide a better life for themselves and their families without consideration for their present socioeconomic position.

He said, “It may be just a chance of winning big money. Some, however, gamble because it is fun and they use that avenue to socialise with friends and peers. People who see gambling as fun could also maybe describe it as exciting and thrilling. It can equally be a hobby or a pastime for some people and can be used to escape boredom while some people gamble to escape stress.

“However, compulsive gambling or gambling addiction is usually when the habit of gambling becomes largely uncontrollable and compulsive and it causes financial distress with potential sociological complications like getting into debts that they cannot repay”.

While noting that there can be more than one reason why people gamble, Dr. Jeje reiterated that having close relatives, especially parents who gamble, can encourage people to go into gambling at a very young age.

The consultant psychiatrist added that while peer pressure from friends can spur interest in gambling, some medications can also trigger gambling behaviour, disclosing that examples of these medications include steroids and drugs for treating Parkinson’s disease.

Gambling, Jeje said, affects the part of the brain that releases a ‘feel good’ hormone called dopamine which creates a feeling of pleasure and reward.

Speaking further on the attributes of a compulsive or addicted gambler, he said they often gamble away more money than they can afford, gamble when they should be working on something more productive and regarded as a stream of income.

He said, “If you feel anxious or stressed about gambling if you find it difficult to deal with your feelings or emotions and the only way you can cope is by gambling if you lie to family and friends about your gambling habits and if you borrow or steal money to fund your gambling habit, or would commit crimes to fund the gambling habit, then you a compulsive or addicted gambler.

“Sometimes people try to go back to win money they have lost and their gambling habit would then goes out of control. Other times people cannot stop thinking about gambling as they cannot stop thinking about the adrenaline rush and excitement that comes with gambling. Some people would have tried to stop gambling and would have made unsuccessful attempts at quitting. There may also have been the loss of a relationship or job due to gambling habits. All these can have adverse mental health effects.

“Gambling can cause low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, depression, and sometimes trigger suicidal thoughts or behaviours. There is a strong link between gambling problems and suicide.

“If you have ever had thoughts of ending your life and you cannot keep yourself safe, please seek support from your family and friends, speak to your doctor for help if you are struggling with low mood, and together formulate a safety plan to keep you safe. Most importantly, people addicted to gambling should seek financial advice, especially when in debt”.

Support for people who are addicted to gambling, he said, varies from country to country.

He, however, noted that actions can help those addicted to gambling despite the lack of infrastructure or services dedicated to helping people with the problem, adding that it is possible to quit gambling addiction.

He said, “Quitting begins with the realisation that there is a problem that requires a solution. Most people will try to seek help when there is financial distress or they have lost a relationship with their significant other or gambling affects their social functioning and they eventually lose their job.

“Support of family and friends is very important. Asking a close family member or friend to help you with your finances such as monitoring what you spend can be helpful. Being accountable can be helpful and patients must know that they have to be truthful about their expenditures and income if they need help with gambling habits.

“Handing your financial cards and uninstalling all financial/payment apps on your devices could also be helpful because of the development in information technology, gambling now occurs both, online and offline, adding that people who have had lived experiences of gambling and have been working towards stopping. If there is no group available one can think about starting the group and looking for like minds that need help”.

He reiterated that there’s evidence that gambling can be successfully treated in the same way as other addictions, adding that a way of permanently kicking the destructive habit when he said:

“There is a kind of talking therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is helpful and has the best results. Cognitive Analytic Therapy has also been helpful. Talking therapy deals with the ‘here and now’ and this therapy can be delivered face-to-face or online via several platforms”.

The treatment required, he said, maybe cognitive restructuring as some people may think differently about betting than others. They may believe they are more likely to win when they do certain things that will bring them luck.

“Talking therapy will look at all of these thoughts and behaviours and beliefs around gambling and how to evaluate how these can be changed or redirected to help people eventually stop gambling. The therapy uses a process of exposure to the behavior you want to unlearn and teaches you skills to reduce your urge to gamble.

“The latter part of therapy has to do with maintenance and relapse prevention. People have varied responses to both treatment and stressors. Treatment aims he said, is to ensure that whatever the stressor may be that patients would not go down the slippery slope of gambling addiction.

Also speaking with our correspondent, Mr. Ogunsemi said that gambling is the act of betting something of value i.e. money on an event with an uncertain outcome with the intent to win more money or things of value than was wagered.

Gambling, Ogunsemi said, involves risking something of value, including money, for the chance of winning more than you risk.

He said that “for adolescents, gambling is viewed as an adult activity that they can participate in fairly easily, such as playing poker for money with their friends, and without upsetting their parents too much”.

This continuum, he noted, is skewed toward most youth gambling rarely or occasionally and some youth gambling excessively.

He reiterated that people are addicted to gambling as a result of an alteration to the brain centre (Dopamine), which are responsible for reward and pleasure. People gamble for several reasons, social, facing financial difficulties, to solve boredom or loneliness, or as an escape from problematic emotions like depression.

He added that it must not be over-emphasised that the mental health effect of gambling ranges from depression, psychoactive substance use disorders, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, and alcoholism.”

He said: “Quitting gambling involves contact with counselors and psychologists or any mental health service provider. The individual need to be helped to understand that gambling is a problem, and find an alternative to it either by, learning how to get involved in other profitable activities or get new hobbies, joining a support group, practicing budgeting, and so on”.

He also backed therapy for those affected, saying, “Therapy can assist gamblers, for example, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy could help the individual to identify the irrational thoughts and emotions or beliefs behind his gambling behaviour, and learn ways of disputing the irrational beliefs by adopting a better or healthy mindset, such a person can be free”.

According to a study published by Psychiatric Times, millions of people have gambling-related challenges and many of them will experience substantial financial, legal, relational, and health harm as a result of gambling addiction.


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