Over the course of history, our understanding of mental health disorders has evolved greatly. Because psychological and neurological disorders are “invisible” by nature, their study and treatment present unique challenges. Thankfully, the medical field makes significant advances every day.
In recent years, influential studies have indicated that many mental health disorders have a much stronger basis in neurological processes than we previously thought. Disordered behavior, like problem gambling, actually changes the chemistry of the brain. Over time, the effects of such behavior strongly resemble that of harmful substance use. This new bridge in the study of disordered gambling has led to exciting innovations in its treatment.
However, we still have much learning to do. Countless factors influence an individual’s mental health. As the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) helps problem gamblers, we are always striving to improve our understanding of their struggle. We have pinpointed several significant discoveries in the past few decades that have transformed how we view disordered gambling:
Increasingly, psychiatric professionals find that problem gamblers experience an astonishingly high rate of comorbidity with mental health disorders. Just as in populations struggling with substance use disorders, disordered gamblers tend to struggle with issues like anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. More often than not, these problems also amplify each other.
Interestingly enough, certain drugs prescribed for those same mood disorders, as well as neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, can lead to the onset or worsening of disordered gambling. These medications mostly consist of “dopamine agonists.” Essentially, these drugs activate dopamine receptors, treating issues caused by low levels of the compound. Research has indicated that a notable portion of patients engaged in increased levels of disordered behavior when taking these medications. Now, doctors prescribe dopamine agonists much more carefully.
There is a silver lining amidst these sobering revelations. Treating one mental health condition – either through medication or other therapies – can ameliorate the others. For patients experiencing multiple psychiatric disorders, the most effective treatment frequently takes a holistic approach.
More discoveries about mental health disorders and their treatment come to light every day. As we continue to offer support, treatment, and hope to disordered gamblers, we will keep incorporating these discoveries into our own understanding. To reach out and seek help, contact our gambling help hotline, 1-800-GAMBLER. Alternatively, visit us at https://800gambler.org/ to learn more about our organization.