Despite the risks associated with gambling, many individuals who are addicted to gambling are drawn to the potential windfall. Yet, statistically, we know that over time, losses exceed wins. Some research suggests that cognitive distortions contribute to the development and maintenance of pathological gambling. Cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns that precipitate negative emotional states and maladaptive behaviors, such as gambling.
A recent study in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that these cognitive distortions can play an important role in why some individuals find gambling appealing. Participants identified as pathological gamblers demonstrated a misperception of randomness, in particular an illusory perception of patterns in random sequences. To put it more simply, these individuals saw patterns in randomness. To some degree, we have all fallen victim to these illusory perceptions: you’re at the roulette table and after multiple hits of black, you are confident that red is destined to win. It’s the idea that if you lost, you must be due for a win. This kind of thinking is often enhanced among habitual gamblers, which can act as a motivator to continue with gambling despite the negative consequences. Thus, the combination of impulsivity to gamble and cognitive distortions are thought to drive the compulsion.
Knowing that these cognitive distortions are partly to blame in fueling the desire to compulsively gamble can lead to more effective treatments. In particular, cognitive therapy targets these irrational thought patterns and helps individuals develop more adaptive, or rational, thinking patterns. Additionally, cognitive therapy often incorporates behavioral changes to help individuals with a gambling addiction make positive lifestyle changes. Cognitive therapy is part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and has been used to effectively treat gambling disorder (GD).
If you or someone you know is suffering from a gambling addiction, contact us today at 480-448-6755 for a consultation with Dr. Mazzei.