SEATTLE — Addiction can take on many forms, and whatever outward outlet it may take internally there are many similarities. Behavioral health specialists are now applying techniques used to treat drug and alcohol abuse to problem gambling.
“I think there are a lot of similarities between problem gambling, substance use disorder and also what we call process addictions or behavioral addictions,” said Dr. Ty Lostutter, President of Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling and Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors.
“A lot of those similarities are things like needing to do more of, in this case, gambling, so there's tolerance on board. There are similarities between if you try to cut back and become irritable -- so we would call that withdrawal symptoms.”
Just because you start gambling doesn’t mean you will turn into a problem gambler. If you do, however, it can impact your life in myriad ways. Getting treatment has shown to be an effective recovery tool.
“Treatment definitely helps," said Stephanie Tompkins, a substance use disorder professional and clinical supervisor at Alternatives Professional Counseling. “Treatment is for the individual, but it doesn't really work just with the individual. You really have to try to work with the whole family. You can't just fix the individual, you've got to fix everything around them, you have to take a holistic approach.”
Clinical studies have shown that problem gamblers who receive addiction treatment improve.
“(How) we study the behavioral psychology pieces of this are very much like we would do a drug trial,” Lostutter said. They do a randomized clinical control trial to either get treatment or not -- and follow up with participants over time.
“And the people who get treatment always seem to get better at least the majority of them get better.”
Gambling being recognized as an addiction is a fairly recent development, and new treatment methods are routinely being evaluated, Lostutter said.