Table of Contents

Diagnosing Gambling Disorder

The first step to get help for gambling disorder is to recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem. It can be challenging for individuals to admit that they have a gambling issue, but accepting the need for help is an essential first step towards recovery.

There are several screening tools commonly used to assess gambling disorder.

The most common is the NODS-SA which is a self-assessment version of the NODS (the NORC Diagnostic Screen for Gambling Disorders). It was designed to assist individuals in evaluating whether to modify or seek help for their gambling behavior. The NODS is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV criteria for gambling disorder. The NODS-SA has been extensively validated and demonstrates strong psychometric properties. It has been shown to accurately identify individuals with gambling disorders and provide reliable results.

NODS-SA questions include the following:

  1. Have there ever been periods lasting two weeks or longer when you spent a lot of time thinking about your gambling experiences, planning out future gambling ventures or bets, or thinking about ways of getting money to gamble with?
    Yes
    No
  1. Have there ever been periods when you needed to gamble with increasing amounts of money or with larger bets than before in order to get the same feeling of excitement?
    Yes
    No
  1. Have you ever felt restless or irritable when trying to stop, cut down, or control your gambling?
    Yes
    No
  1. Have you tried and not succeeded in stopping, cutting down, or controlling your gambling three or more times in your life?
    Yes
    No
  2. Have you ever gambled to escape from personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?
    Yes
    No
  3. Has there ever been a period when, if you lost money gambling one day, you would often return another day to get even?
    Yes
    No
  4. Have you lied to family members, friends, or others about how much you gamble, and/or about how much money you lost on gambling, on at least three occasions?
    Yes
    No
  5. Have you ever written a bad check or taken money that didn’t belong to you from family members, friends, or anyone else in order to pay for your gambling?
    Yes
    No
  6. Has your gambling ever caused serious or repeated problems in your relationships with any of your family members or friends? Or, has your gambling ever caused you problems at work or your studies?
    Yes
    No
  7. Have you ever needed to ask family members, friends, a lending institution, or anyone else to loan you money or otherwise bail you out of a desperate money situation that was largely caused by your gambling?
    Yes
    No

Results:
If you answered between 1 and 2 questions with “yes” this result is consistent with a mild risk for a gambling problem but does not meet a clinical diagnosis of a gambling disorder.

If you answered between 3 and 4 questions with a “yes” this result is consistent with past or present problem gambling, which is generally less serious than the clinical diagnosis of a gambling disorder.

If you answered 5 or more questions with a “yes” this result is consistent with a likely diagnosis of a gambling disorder.

While the NODS-SA is considered a reliable and comprehensive screening tool, it’s important to note that no single questionnaire can definitively diagnose gambling disorder. For proper evaluation and diagnosis, the healthcare professional will conduct a thorough interview with the individual to gather information about their gambling behavior, related difficulties, and personal history. The healthcare professional will assess whether the individual meets the specific criteria for gambling disorder as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These criteria include factors such as loss of control, preoccupation with gambling, and continued gambling despite negative consequences.

Depending on the situation, the healthcare professional may administer additional psychological tests or assessments to gather additional information about the individual’s gambling behavior and its impact on their life. These assessments can help in determining the severity of the problem and identifying co-occurring mental health conditions.

LifeStance provides diagnosis and treatment for gambling addiction. To locate a mental health clinic near you search our location directory. To find a mental health care provider who can treat gambling addiction search our provider directory.

Treatment Options for Gambling Addiction

For many people, gambling can be recreational and not become an addiction. However, for some, gambling can cause problems in their lives. It is estimated that 2 million adults in the U.S. meet the criteria for gambling disorder, with another 4-6 million people in the U.S. struggling with problem gambling as reported by National Council on Problem Gambling. Problem gambling is anytime gambling causes problems or negative consequences in someone’s life. Gambling disorder is a diagnosis by a qualified, trained professional determined by the criteria set forth in the DSM5.

Treatment for gambling addiction involves a comprehensive approach tailored to the individual’s needs. Addressing the underlying psychological factors contributing to the addiction can provide strategies for managing cravings and maintaining long-term recovery. The following treatment options are commonly utilized:

Psychotherapy

Various forms of psychotherapy are effective in treating gambling addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often employed to identify and modify unhealthy gambling behaviors, challenge distorted thought patterns, and develop maintainable coping strategies. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for gambling addiction involves specific techniques and strategies tailored to address gambling addiction such as cognitive restructuring.

The goal of cognitive restructuring is to help individuals develop a more balanced and rational perspective on gambling, recognize the consequences, and develop healthier coping strategies. By addressing and modifying dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, individuals can change their behavioral patterns and reduce the likelihood of engaging in problematic gambling behaviors.

It’s important to note that cognitive restructuring is just one aspect of CBT, which also includes other strategies such as behavior modification techniques, skill-building, and relapse prevention.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing helps individuals explore the motivations, values, and goals related to quitting gambling to increase intrinsic motivation and promote behavior change.

Support Groups

Joining support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous (GA), provides individuals with a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences, receiving support, and learning from others who have overcome similar challenges can be highly beneficial.

Financial Management and Debt Counseling

Addressing the financial consequences of gambling addiction is an essential part of the recovery process. Financial management strategies, budgeting, and debt counseling can help individuals regain control over their finances and develop healthier financial habits.

Family Therapy

Involving family members in the treatment process can improve understanding, communication, and support. Family therapy sessions aim to address the impact of gambling addiction on family dynamics and provide a supportive environment for healing and recovery.

Medication Management

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically for the treatment of gambling addiction.  In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage underlying mental health conditions or alleviate symptoms associated with gambling addiction. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or opioid antagonists may be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Cognitive Remediation

This approach focuses on improving cognitive skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making, to enhance self-control and reduce impulsive behaviors related to gambling addiction.

Relapse Prevention

Developing strategies to prevent relapse is a crucial aspect of treatment. This may involve identifying triggers, building a strong support network, and developing healthier coping mechanisms to manage cravings and stressful situations.

Co-occurring Treatment

When gambling addiction coexists with other mental health disorders, a comprehensive treatment plan addressing all conditions is necessary. Integrated treatment approaches ensure that all underlying issues are effectively addressed for optimal recovery outcomes.

Self-Help Strategies for Gambling Addiction

Stopping a gambling addiction requires a multifaceted approach and a commitment to change. Here are some strategies that can help individuals overcome their addiction:

  • Self-Reflection – Take time to reflect on the negative consequences of gambling on your life. Acknowledge the financial, emotional, and interpersonal toll it has taken. This self-awareness can serve as motivation to make a change.
  • Set Realistic Goals – Set achievable goals for reducing or eliminating gambling behavior. Start with small, attainable milestones and gradually work towards long-term abstinence.
  • Avoid Triggers – Identify situations, environments, or people that trigger the urge to gamble and actively avoid them. This may involve changing routines, finding new hobbies or activities, or seeking support from friends and family.
  • Develop Coping Strategies – Learn healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotions that may lead to gambling urges. This may involve engaging in physical exercise, practicing relaxation techniques, or participating in mindfulness activities.
  • Build a Support System – Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, or support groups who understand your struggle and can provide encouragement and accountability. Joining a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous (GA), can offer invaluable support from individuals who have faced similar challenges.
  • Manage Finances – Take control of your finances to prevent further damage. Create a budget, seek financial advice if needed, and establish safeguards to limit access to funds for gambling purposes.
  • Replace Gambling with Healthy Activities – Fill your time with positive, fulfilling activities that bring joy and a sense of accomplishment. Engage in hobbies, sports, or social activities that provide alternative sources of pleasure and fulfillment.
  • Stay Committed to Recovery – Overcoming a gambling addiction is a journey that requires ongoing commitment. Stay engaged in treatment, attend support group meetings, and be willing to seek help whenever needed.

Where to Find Support for a Gambling Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, it’s important to seek help and support. Here are some resources to consider:

  1. Gambling Addiction Hotline: The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPC) offers a free and confidential hotline at 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-522-4700)
  2. Treatment Centers and Mental Health Care Clinics: Professional treatment centers specializing in gambling addiction can provide comprehensive assessment, diagnosis, and individualized treatment plans. These centers often offer a range of therapeutic interventions and support services tailored to the unique needs of each individual. Mental health care clinics often offer a similar level of support for gambling addiction. They employ professionals who have specific training and experience in treating addictive behaviors. These professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and addiction counselors, understand the complexities of gambling addiction and can provide targeted interventions and support. Gambling addiction is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and mental health clinics can provide comprehensive care that targets these co-occurring disorders. Within the integrated approach, clinics offer regular therapy sessions, counseling, and follow-up appointments to monitor progress, address challenges, and provide guidance during the recovery process. Additionally, they may offer resources for families and loved ones to understand and support individuals dealing with gambling addiction.To find a mental health clinic near you browse our location directory.
  3. Online Support Groups: Online support groups and forums provide a platform for individuals to connect with others facing similar challenges. These communities offer a supportive environment for sharing experiences, seeking advice, and finding encouragement throughout the recovery journey.
  4. Mental Health Professionals: Consulting with mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or addiction counselors, can provide specialized guidance and support. These professionals can conduct assessments, provide therapy, and offer evidence-based treatment strategies for gambling addiction. To find a mental health care counselor who specializes in gambling addiction browse our provider directory.

With the right support, treatment, and a commitment to change, individuals can overcome gambling addiction and regain control of their lives.

Who Can Treat Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction treatment requires specialized knowledge and expertise to address the complex nature of the disorder. Various professionals may be qualified to offer effective treatment for gambling addiction. Here are some key individuals who are commonly involved in providing gambling addiction treatment:

  • Addiction Counselors – Addiction counselors specialize in treating substance use disorders, including behavioral addictions like gambling addiction. They are trained to assess and diagnose gambling addiction, provide counseling and therapy, and develop personalized treatment plans.
  • Psychologists – Psychologists with expertise in addiction and compulsive behaviors can play a crucial role in the treatment of gambling addiction. They utilize evidence-based therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to help individuals identify and modify unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs related to gambling.
  • Psychiatrists – Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health and are qualified to diagnose and treat gambling addiction. They can prescribe medications, if necessary, to manage co-occurring mental health conditions that may contribute to or result from gambling addiction.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) – LCSWs are trained to provide therapeutic interventions and support for individuals with gambling addiction. They can help address underlying emotional issues, develop coping strategies, and connect individuals with additional resources and support systems.
  • Certified Gambling Counselors (CGCs) – Certified Gambling Counselors have received specialized training in gambling addiction and are certified by recognized organizations. They provide counseling, education, and support tailored to the needs of individuals with gambling addiction.
  • Support Group Facilitators – Support groups are often led by facilitators who have personal experience with gambling addiction and have successfully recovered. They provide a supportive environment for individuals to share their struggles, receive guidance, and foster a sense of community.

To find a mental health care counselor who specializes in gambling addiction browse our provider directory.

photo of LifeStance provider Paula Ignizio, LPCC-S, LICDC
Clinically Reviewed By:
Paula Ignizio, LPCC-S, LICDC
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Paula S. Ignizio is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC-S) and a licensed independent chemical dependency and gambling disorder counselor (LICDC-GAMBp).