Mental Health Issues and Treatment

Internet Gambling Addiction

Why Do People Gamble?

Gambling Among Teens and College Students

Laws Regarding Online Gambling

Mental Health Issues and Treatment


































































Mental Health Issues 

Internet gambling and traditional gambling are similar in the effects they have on their abusers. Those who fall into “pathological gamblers” are the individuals who are at risk for other comorbid disorders. Pietrzak and Petry (2005) define pathological gambling as “an impulse-control disorder characterized by preoccupation, loss of control, tolerance and cycles of abstinence and relapse related to gambling” (p.1183). Petry and Weinstock (2007) characterize pathological gambling by “continued gambling in spite of negative consequences” (p. 325). Cunningham-Williams et al. (1998) found that pathological gamblers have higher rates of suicide attempts, felony convictions, perpetration of spouse or partner abuse, perpetrations of physical child abuse, and unemployment than the general population. It tends to be comorbid with depression, as well as substance abuse. Gambling online exacerbates and increases the speed of the negative effects of gambling. mental health

Pathological gambling, especially online, is linked to financial difficulties, emotional distress, and psychiatric problems. Internet gambling is a sedentary activity. This, in combination with isolation created by the computer, put an individual at higher risk for mental health problems  (Petry, & Weinstock, 2007). Many authors consider pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder. These types of disorders are similar to alcoholism and pornography addiction.

Pathological online gambling is associated with overall poor mental health scores. Petry and Weinstock (2007) found that internet gambling was a “statistically significant predictor of poor mental health” (p. 329). They also found that the more often an individual gambles online, the worse the mental health rating. Cunningham-Williams et al. (1998) state pathological internet gamblers have higher rates of most psychiatric disorders. They also found a strong link between gambling addiction and anti-social personality disorder. Anti-social personality disordered seemed to appear more often with pathological gambling compared to all other psychiatric disorders. Major depression, phobias, somatization, anti-social personality disorder, alcoholism, and nicotine dependence are all found to be comorbitities (Cunningham-Williams et al., 1998).

Pietrzak and Petry (2005) found that pathological gambling, which can be created by the internet, can be related to risks such as negative economic, familial, medical, and psychosocial problems. They also stated that those individuals “report medical and psychiatric difficulties, including cardiovascular symptoms, musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal distress, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and attempts” (p. 1184). Pietrzak and Petry (2005) found the antisocial life-style created by the internet atmosphere poses a greater risk to one’s health.

Ibanez et al. (2001), in their study, found that about 62% of their participants (which were compulsive gamblers) had comorbid diagnoses. The participants were diagnosed most commonly with personality disorders. Other disorders included were alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and adjustment disorders. They also found that individuals who had a psychological disorder in addition to gambling addiction had a greater severity of problem gambling and psychopathology as opposed to those who had one or the other.



Collier (2008) points out that gambling addiction has been considered a psychiatric disorder since the early 1980’s. Psychiatric disorders require assistance to overcome. Petry and Weinstock (2007) noted that internet gambling addiction is comparable with pathological gambling. Other authors suggest the components that make it an addiction are the same as those that create an internet addiction. With the likelihood of a comorbid disorder, treatment of online gambling addiction can get tricky. There hasn’t been much research done on treatment specific for gambling online, but it is suggested that treatments for pathological gambling and internet addiction can both be effective.

Treatment is necessary in many cases. Wallis (2009) states that people who withdraw from gambling can experience the same withdraw symptoms as individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol. A 12-week program of intensive cognitive behavior therapy is suggested by Wallis (2009).  Cognitive behavior therapy is suggested by Shaw and Black (2008) for internet addiction. “Emotional states, maladaptive cognitions, and life events can serve as triggers” for Internet use in excessive quantities (p. 326). If these things are changed, Internet abuse may cease. Shaw and Black (2008) explain how to make the changes occur. An individual should engage in opposite activities, use of timers to end online sessions, set time limits, prioritize tasks, and record Internet usage to abstain from Internet abuse.

Group therapy and outpatient programs are commonly suggested as a treatment option as well. Support groups are readily available and are even offered online (Shaw, & Black, 2008). Online therapy and support groups should be used with caution. Collier (2008) reported that such outpatient programs can help a struggling addict to understand their problems and steps to avoid relapse are taught. Also mentioned is the best way for some addicts to recover is to tackle the task alone. This shows that it is crucial for treatment plans to be individualized; one approach is not going to work for everyone. If one is attending support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous, they can use that group to help cope with their internet addiction or online gambling addiction (Saisan, Smith, Segal, & Segal, 2009).

Pharmacological treatments have also been proposed. Shaw and Black (2008) mention mood stabilizers as being effective when treating Internet addiction. As for gambling addiction, “research indicates that lithium shows promise in reducing gambling impulses” (Collier, 2008, p. 128). Collier (2008) also stated that amino acid N-Acetyl cysteine can inhibit the area of the brain associated with gambling urges. Another suggested medication is opioid antagonist nalmefene.

In Canada, each province offers gambling help lines. These callers are usually redirected to Gamblers Anonymous (Collier, 2008). Online gambling addiction, gambling addiction, and internet addiction, which are all closely related, can create problems outside of the individual. They can cause damage to one’s finances, marriage, and even their entire family. In these cases, financial counseling, marriage counseling, and family therapy are all beneficial treatment options. For other individuals, a ban from the computer may be the best option. Although, a computer ban is almost impossible today considering computers have become central to our everyday functioning. They are used in every facet of our lives from work to school work.

In conclusion, a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacological treatments may be the best option, although individualization should be emphasized. Collier (2008) said that individuals seeking treatment for pathological gambling should focus on three things: limiting access to money, be honest with loved ones, and find a helpful support group. In recent years due to the increase in Internet usage, Internet addiction has become prevalent among teens. Saisan, Smith, Segal, and Segal (2009) make some suggestions for parents. These suggestions include encouragement in other interests and social activities, monitor computer use, set limits, and talk to children about things going on in their lives. Online gambling addiction, Internet addiction, and pathological gambling are very complex disorders to address. There is no evidence-based research for treatment options regarding these things (Shaw, & Black, 2008). Further research is needed to cover the topic more fully.