Gambling Problems & Depression

Here is an interesting article by Frederick Dussault of the University of Quebec in Montreal Canada, that was published in the Journal of Gambling Studies.

Odds are that chronic gamblers are often also depressed.

If a young man is a chronic gambler, the chances are extremely high that he also suffers from depression. This is one of the findings from a study led by Frédéric Dussault of the University of Quebec at Montreal in Canada. Published in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies, it is the first to investigate the extent to which gambling and depression develop hand-in-hand from the teenage years to early adulthood.

Data were drawn from an ongoing long-term study that began in 1984. It follows a group of 1,162 kindergarten boys from economically disadvantaged areas in Montreal in Canada. Over the years information had been collected about the socio-family setting the boys grew up in, how impulsive they were and the quality of their relationships with their parents and friends. The current study includes data from 888 participants who were also asked at the ages of 17, 23 and 28 years old about possible gambling or depression problems.

Only three percent of these young men experienced increasing chronic gambling problems between the ages of 17 and 28 years old. This corresponds with the prevalence rate of problem gambling among adults of between one percent and three percent.

However, a majority of the young men (73 percent) with significant gambling issues also suffer from depressive problems. These problems develop hand-in-hand, becoming even more severe over time. This finding supports the notion that “pure” gamblers without related internalizing problems are an exception rather than the rule, at least during late adolescence to early adulthood. The likelihood is also greater that very impulsive boys will become increasingly depressed and have gambling problems.

The problematic gambling behavior did not necessarily decline by the time the young men turned 28 years old. According to Dussault, this may be because, contrary to delinquent behavior such as violence or theft, gambling is legal once individuals reach adulthood. Also, the influence of deviant friends who entice others to commit offences often diminish as young people grow older.

“Gambling problems may be more a personal problem similar to an addiction: once acquired, they are difficult to get rid of,” Dussault says.

Dussault suggests that gambling problems should be treated together with depression. Whereas a strong parent-child relationship could counter the emergence of depressive symptoms, it does not necessarily do so for gambling tendencies. In this regard, Dussault believes early prevention programs should target specific risk factors particular to a person, such as being very impulsive or always making the wrong friends.

I don’t know why I can’t stop myself.

I’ve heard this complaint from many of clients over the years.  We all want to maintain control of our behaviors and our life.  We cherish the ability to choose what we do, and do not do, throughout the day.  People with addictive behaviors know how hard it is keep things in control, particularly their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.  The older the habit, the harder it is to change.  At times it seems like you’re fighting a ghost.  Just when you think you’ve wrestled back control of the problem, you lose control and off you go, where you wish you wouldn’t. Today’s new brain research explains the neural dynamics of an addiction and helps us understand why the undertow of an addiction can undermine the best thinking.  With this new science, and the ability to get help from those who understand how to change, we can more easily wrestle control of addictive behaviors and achieve a life of freedom and choice.   The New York Times ran an Opinion piece in the Sunday paper this past week that I think is worth reading.  These concepts I teach and integrate in counseling sessions.  I wanted to share it with you. The Amygdala Made Me Do It

When you feel the worst, is an opportunity to change for the better.

One  advantage of having a process addiction over substance abuse, is that the brain is less damaged by chemicals and you have a occasional capacity to be introspective, and think. This doesn’t particularly mean that it’s any easier kicking a gambling problem than say an alcohol problem.  Substance abuse can fog the brain for days, even weeks on end.  The pain and misery from losing money and suffering under the weight of debt can do the same.  Now and then, pleasure-seeking obsessive compulsive behaviors subside, momentarily.  Especially after a binge.  Watch for those moments of inquisitiveness.  When you hurt the most is when you are most likely to change by asking for help.    This window of opportunity, these moments of honesty, can be used to understand  how the addiction works inside your brain.  Visit the Gambler’s Anonymous website (  Learn about dopamine and the pleasure centers.   Read what experts in the field, or recovering gamblers, have to say about your experience.   Get help and learn more about your unique problem with compulsive gambling.  Knowing you have a problem is an opportunity to take the next step and get into action with a solution.

The eternal dilemma with addictions is that at some point, we lose the capacity to determine if we’ve gone too far.   We can’t see when we cross over the line?  Our family knows.  Our enabling friends know.  People at work will look at you and ask “are you ok?”  But you don’t get it. Your addiction is in your blindspot.  Once in a while, we see the problem and know the solution. Remember the day after a binge, when the truth of your problem hits you in the face like a brick, watch for those moments of pain and inquisitiveness. Here is your window of opportunity. Reach out to trusted resources and get help, get educated about the problem. Grab the opportunity to take your insight and change the course of the problem. Get out of the problem and into the solution.

Your chance of finding a resolution to an addiction is far greater if you get out of the problem and into the solution with education and help from those who can help.

Why do I gamble?

People gamble to have a good time.  You gamble to escape.  Or you need money, and gambling seems like the easiest means to make quick money.  You may have had a big win, once upon a time.  Proof that gambling works.  You remember that wonderful feeling of winning and the feeling of hope that life is getting better.  You felt like a lucky guy.  You’re convinced you could win again.  Instead, you start losing.  And, in spite of mounting losses, you turn to gambling.   The thrill of success fades.  You start to see the dark truth.  You’ve lost your winnings and now you’re in the hole.  This is the point when people start “chasing” their loses.  Another sign of a gambling problem: chasing.  Gambling to make up for the gambling losses.  Weird as it sounds, gambling seems like the solution to your gambling problem!  It’s a crazy place.  You know it.  But you can’t stop yourself.  Your life is unraveling.  Gambling is no longer fun.  You’ve become a problem gambler.

Gambler’s Anonymous 20 Questions

20 QUESTIONS to help you determine if you have a gambling problem.

Are you a compulsive gamble? Take the test! Please read these questions and answer Yes  or No.

  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
  10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

     Most compulsive gamblers will answer ‘Yes’ to at least seven of these questions.

How can I help someone with a gambling problem?

If you are a family member or friend who knows someone with a gambling problem, getting help for yourself, is as important as getting help for the gambler.  You have options too.  This blog is for you, as well.  The whole family system is affected by the addict in the family, one way or another.  But if one person can change, if one person can get better, than the whole system is impacted in a positive way.  It’s common for family members to reach out for help first, before the addict.  This can be the beginning of the healing process in the family.