The Relationship Between Gambling and Anti-Depressants

The Relationship Between Gambling and Anti-DepressantsGambling addiction and the abuse of anti-depressants are two issues which share a surprising amount of common ground. As the understanding of both issues expand, it appears that each problem can lead to or complicate the other.

Uninhibited Betting

Gambling addiction is one of several kinds of compulsive and destructive patterns of behavior sometimes known as process addictions or behavioral addictions. Even though there is no substance acting on the brain, the psychological need to engage in a particular process shares many characteristics with substance addiction. Researchers and clinicians are still working to find useful ways to classify these kinds of problems and effective ways to treat them. The American Psychiatric Association labels the problem as “disordered gambling” and only categorized it as a behavioral addiction in the most recent edition of its influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V).

Although separate from chemical addictions, chemicals in the brain are still important to the thought and behavior patterns of a gambling addiction. The neurotransmitter serotonin plays a role in the sensation of risk. It appears to play a role in making a feeling of fear accompany ideas that logically appear to be a bad idea. Risky choices, such as placing large bets, are inhibited.

Some antidepressants work by slowing down the action of serotonin. For those who suffer from anxiety or depression, this inhibition of serotonin can help release them from indecision or apathy. They can begin to make choices and plans normally.

But sometimes the effect of antidepressants can be to push inhibition to the other extreme. Instead of being anxious about every possible risk, a person can begin to feel no inhibition at all even when confronting serious risks. In this way, antidepressants can pave the way for severe episodes of disordered gambling.

Misplaced Medication

Since antidepressants generally push a person away from caution and moderation, clinicians do not generally use them to treat a gambling problem. But people with a gambling addiction often have one or more additional mental health issues as well. Since a gambling addiction is more difficult to identify and easier to hide than problems like anxiety, depression or substance abuse, a gambling addict may be prescribed an antidepressant to help with one of these other problems. Unfortunately, antidepressants can make an undiagnosed gambling addiction even more difficult to control.

Can It Be Abused?

One reason antidepressants are prescribed so readily is that doctors consider the potential for abuse to be very low. When tested at levels commonly prescribed, anti-depressants do not produce any kind of rush or high. They mostly make people feel good by helping those with debilitating problems feel normal again.

Drug abuse, however, can often be more complicated in regard to antidepressants than many of the doctors who prescribe them may realize. Abusers are able to achieve a high similar to cocaine or amphetamines by taking high doses, injecting the crushed pills, or combining the antidepressants with other drugs.

Gambling addicts, who may be in treatment or in legal trouble because of substance abuse already, can acquire antidepressants easily. The level of control antidepressants are subject to is much lower than other drugs of abuse.

Hedging for Recovery

If you or someone you know is mixing gambling addiction with antidepressant abuse, call our 24 hour helpline to learn about options for recovery. The call is toll free.