Can hypnosis help with gambling addiction?
For many of us, it is nice to have the odd ‘flutter’ now and again. Maybe that’s playing the lottery, placing a bet on the grand national each year or even buying raffle tickets to support your child’s school. We might not even see it as ‘having a bet’. But, whenever you invest money where there is a potential win or lose outcome, that is gambling.
For most of us, this is not a problem. The act of gambling is controlled. However, regardless of whether it is an occasional bet or a daily addiction, the chemical response that occurs when we gamble is the same. And it is this response (along with some core beliefs we might tell ourselves) that leads to the addiction.
Let’s take a look at this response.
You may have heard of dopamine. This is often referred to as the brain’s pleasure chemical. It is triggered by lots of different stimulants such as sex, drugs, smoking and, of course, gambling. It activates an increased ability to focus, so not only do we enjoy the experience at the time, but we also have a better memory of the event.
If we compare smoking with gambling, however, dopamine acts in a very different way. If you ask a smoker how many cigarettes they enjoy a day, often, the answer will be the first one. And, if they are completely honest, this is normally limited to the first few drags instead of the cigarette as a whole. Therefore, smokers can maintain the habit instead of increasing the number they smoke each day.
For gambling, however, dopamine isn’t just released when we win. It can be triggered by the anticipation of winning. This is unlikely if you buy a weekly lottery ticket, as once bought we often forget about it until after the draw. But, if you have ever been to the races and placed a bet, you are caught up in the excitement of the race, cheering your horse on. So even when we are losing, the brain experiences reward.
And this can go on to physically change the make-up of your brain by creating ‘reward pathways’. These pathways can increase the cravings for whatever your stimulant is, in this example, gambling.
With all addictions, it can be hard to recognise when something is becoming a problem. We tend to tell ourselves that we are in control of it. And when we are in control of it, it’s not a problem and can instead be some harmless fun. So, how do we recognise the addiction?
Well, addiction needs to be fuelled. At one point, placing a couple of quids’ bet on the football team you support each week might have been enough. But, when the addiction starts to take over, the stimulant needs to be increased to get the same ‘high’. In other words, either the amount of the bet is increased or the frequency between bets are decreased.
Typically, it seems to be partnered with a core set of beliefs: ‘I am a lucky person’ and/or ‘I have a method to win’. Interestingly, people who believe themselves to be lucky will often take chances on things like raffle tickets and competitions because of this reason. In contrast, those who believe they are unlucky will avoid these situations as they think there is no point – they won’t win anyway.
So, is it a case that there is some divine intervention that makes some people lucky and others not? Or is it that those who believe that they are lucky create more opportunities for themselves to be proved right?
Gambling is a game of chance. Yes, you can learn how to play cards. You can master the art of bluffing. You can study the horse’s form. You can give yourself the best chance to win by controlling what is in your control. And yes, this may mean you win more than others who choose a horse by the name or pick their lucky number. But, ultimately, there are no guarantees. And there are so many variables that can influence the situation on the day. The truth is, you have a method. You do not have a method for success. You are not able to control the outcome.
If you are worried that you may have a gambling problem, you can take the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) test.
While gambling can feel like harmless fun, it can have very harmful consequences. Instead of cutting their losses and walking away, people who are addicted to gambling will instead take bigger risks by upping the stake in an attempt to win back their money. As a result, they can often lose everything. It can lead to the breakdown of their relationships with partners, family and friends. And gambling addiction is often linked to alcoholism as well, possibly due to a need to escape from the problem.
Worst still, we know that people facing financial difficulties are also at an increased risk of dying by suicide. A survey carried out by academics at Lund University in Sweden observed a 15% higher risk of suicide in people with a gambling problem than those without.
And while many gambling websites provide the option to set daily limits, I question how effective these are. Those without a problem are unlikely to set a limit as they would not deem it necessary for the occasional flutter, meanwhile, those with a problem have it within their control to change this limit or use a multitude of different sites and platforms to place their bets. So, while it may cause them to stop and reflect for a moment, which may result in them rethinking their actions, it is not a deterrent to anyone desperate to place a bet.
Hypnosis for gambling
Hypnosis can be used to treat addictions. It may be that this is used as part of the 12-step addiction programme to help suppress the urge to gamble while gaining the benefit of peer support from a group environment.
Hypnotherapy is effective in dialling up or down certain triggers in our bodies. In pain management, for example, we can work on a scale of 1-10 of how much pain someone feels and then look to reduce this down to a much lower level. With gambling addiction, we could apply the same principles to that pleasure chemical we experience. This means that you will no longer feel the same high that you once did from placing a bet.
The hypnotherapist might also work with you on your desire to gamble by finding alternative behaviours and activities that fulfil your needs without the same level of risk attached. It may also be necessary to work on coping mechanisms, such as self-hypnosis and breathing techniques that can help you to manage the stress that you may be feeling under the weight of your addiction.
Many different support models can help, including hypnotherapy. But placing another bet to get you out of the financial trouble that gambling put you in, is not the answer. If you believe you may have a problem, seek professional help.
Want to know more? Read Can hypnotherapy stop your gambling addiction? by hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi.
And if hypnotherapy isn’t your thing, that’s OK. Counselling might be a better option for you. Read The 10 most successful ways of overcoming gambling urges by counsellor Noel Bell on our sister site, Counselling Directory.