Beyond drug addictions, there are other disorders linked to dependence on the consumption of a certain product or service. This is the case of gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling : a problem which is reaching more and more people thanks to the popularisation of online gambling.

To learn more about this psychological disorder, we interviewed Sara Meca, a psychologist with many years of experience working in addiction prevention and rehabilitation.

When gambling becomes a problem: Interview with Sara Meca

Sara Meca Zapatero is a psychologist specialized in the clinical field, expert in Gaming Addiction and other Behavioral Addictions, and Director of the Psychology Clinic G.SINadicciones , located in Valencia. As an expert in addiction-related disorders, in this interview she talks about how gambling changes lives and is expressed in the daily lives of those who suffer from gambling addiction.

What are the first warning signs that the family and the close environment of a person with pathological gambling detect about the behavior of this person?

A pathological gamer has lost control and is obsessed with playing, his life revolves around the game. We can see the increase in economic spending by borrowing money from friends, family or banks to pay off debts. It also increases isolation in order to cover up gambling behaviour.

In addition, symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and headaches are very characteristic. In some cases it can increase the consumption of alcohol or other toxins.

Pathological gambling is a real health problem and seriously affects the main areas of life, as we can see in the family relationship, conflicts with the partner or deterioration in the relationship with the children.

Does someone with typical symptoms of pathological gambling realize much later than his or her friends and family that something is wrong? What kind of things usually make him or her realize that there is a problem?

A phase of desperation arrives in which the pathological gambler sees no meaning in his life, the debt is increasing, and in this situation the risk of looking for ways of illegal loans, swindles or even going as far as committing crimes increases.

Despair is on the rise, the pathological player realizes he has a problem with the game when he tries to quit and is unable to, and that’s when he reflects on why he has lost control.

What would you say is the main difference between pathological gambling and chemical addictions, based on substance use?

Pathological gambling disorder is currently included in the same diagnostic category as drug dependence. Pathological gambling is considered to be an addictive disorder, since “the clinical symptoms of gambling disorders are similar to those of drug-related disorders”, justification given by the American Psychiatric Association.

From your point of view as an expert in addictions, what is the main challenge in helping the rehabilitation of a person experiencing pathological gambling?

Gambling addiction is a psychological problem that can turn into a serious mental disorder, that’s our challenge. The goal we have every day with patients suffering from gambling addiction is to replace addictive behavior with new patterns of behavior. In addition, we work with our patients to end treatment with a new lifestyle and good functioning.

How does psychotherapy usually work in these cases?

In the Psychology Clinic G.SINadicciones we offer an individualized service specialized in gambling addiction. Pathological gambling causes a series of psychological and social problems that can only be resolved with specialised intervention.

As in any other addiction, treatment must meet a series of fundamental objectives, which are organized along four treatment stages, and in each of them different techniques are trained.

Is it common for psychotherapy to be performed at the same time as the person is being treated with psychotropic drugs prescribed by doctors?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the approach with the highest success rates, drug therapy is an adjunct when patients have a depressed mood or high level of impulsivity.

As for how patients recover, at what point can it be said that the worst part of the addiction is over?

When addictive behavior has been reduced and withdrawal has been overcome Addiction is considered to have been overcome when it is certain that one will not play again and there is no desire to do so.