Compulsive Gambling as an Addictive Disorder

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially classified pathological gambling as an addictive disorder, the first time an addiction that does not involve substance use has ever been officially classed as such. Compulsive gambling fits all the criteria for an emotional illness as described in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-5), psychology’s primary diagnostic text. This inclusion of gambling addiction as a recognized pathology is a significant step towards effective treatment for this devastating condition. Prior to this classification, compulsive gambling was viewed as an immoral lifestyle or a bad habit. But as we know from studies conducted on substance addiction, this type of compulsive behavior is a progressive and chronic disease with its roots in individual brain function. Unfortunately, the vast majority of residential treatment centers neglect to offer addiction treatment services designed to help people who suffer from this condition alongside any substance use disorder they may have. While there is a wide range of treatment options for individuals who suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol or other behavioral and mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, there are very few resources for helping people afflicted with gambling addiction.

Gambling Addiction Treatment Services

Gambling addiction is a compulsive disorder that frequently occurs alongside substance use disorder.

At Florida House Experience, this is not the case. Florida House’s clinical team boasts one of the only secondary treatment tracks specifically designed to treat individuals who struggle with a gambling addiction or compulsive gambling as a secondary disorder. At Florida House, we offer this treatment track for patients in order to offer effective, evidence-based treatment to serve this demographic of individuals who struggle with compulsive gambling alongside a primary substance addiction disorder.

Help for Gambling Addiction

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that around six million people in the United States suffer from a compulsive gambling problem that warrants treatment. Research also shows that many people who suffer from substance addiction also suffer from a co-occurring issue with compulsive gambling. Studies conducted by this organization also found that in this country, there is a significant lack of gambling addiction treatment services for those who need help. At Florida House Experience, our aim is to bridge that gap and offer comprehensive treatment for individuals seeking help for compulsive gambling behavior alongside treatment for substance abuse. That’s why we offer a specialized track in order to treat clients who suffer from both conditions. Our evidence-based gambling treatment track was developed by clinicians with years of experience in this field, beginning with Dr. Robert Custer, MD, and continued work in this area conducted by staff members Monsignor Joseph Dunn, Dr. Henry Lesieur, PhD, and most recently Dr. Deborah Haskins, PhD. Our team has treated over 1,200 problem gamblers using the addiction treatment services developed specifically for this demographic in a residential-based program and offers help and hope for the future to anyone seeking relief from a compulsive gambling addiction.

The Florida House Experience Compulsive Gambling Treatment Track

At Florida House, we treat individuals who suffer from gambling addiction as whole people, focusing on caring for the mind, body, and spirit, rather than simply addressing the symptoms of the disease. People who struggle with compulsive gambling require treatment plans that address every aspect of their disease, from mental health concerns and social conditions to spiritual care. Most patients who seek gambling addiction treatment services have primary concerns regarding practical issues upon entering treatment, such as dealing with debt or legal issues. Like any effective medical practice, at Florida House Experience we practice symptom triage in order to address our patients’ most pressing conditions before moving on toward long-term or “bigger picture” care. The compulsive gambling treatment plan at Florida House initially utilizes solution-based therapy in order to solve or attend to primary patient issues, before shifting toward treatment that focuses on behavioral modification. For example, most patients who suffer from gambling addiction enter treatment with moderate to severe financial issues as a result of their habitual and compulsive gambling behaviors, while others may be dealing with legal issues upon beginning treatment. Our first order of business is to identify these primary concerns and use therapy and practical case management in order to address them. We work with our patients to develop financial plans or to work with legal representatives to ensure that patients’ financial or legal issues are no longer in “crisis mode” because we believe that patients who don’t have these immediate needs addressed will be unable to fully focus on emotional or behavioral treatment. This process is different for every patient but may involve coordination with court officials to verify patient participation in a mandated treatment program or developing realistic payment plans for loans. Regardless of each individual’s particular needs, they are always addressed with a solution-based approach so that the individual patient can enter the recovery process.

Therapeutic Methods

Gambling Addiction Treatment Services

Solution-based therapy

After developing practical solutions targeted toward addressing primary needs, patients in the compulsive gambling addiction program at Florida House Experience will move into the recovery process and individualized therapeutic care phase of treatment. This method involves a clinical approach to spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical healing for our clients. In this portion of treatment, compulsive gambling patients will participate in a variety of evidence-based therapeutic addiction treatment services. Primarily, our program offers cognitive and behavioral therapy which helps clients to identify destructive behavior patterns that have fueled their gambling addiction in a process we call “scrubbing the soul.” This is followed by group and individual therapy sessions designed to help clients identify core issues and internal characteristics that produce negative circumstances in their lives. By using therapy to help patients identify these issues, we assist in their journey within to identify and address the underlying causes that contribute to compulsive gambling behavior. Once these root problems are identified, we use a variety of therapeutic methods ranging from dialectical behavioral therapy to group processes in order to help patients resolve these problems and develop healthier patterns of living. Individualized treatment plans also involve family systems therapy in order to promote communication between family members, address family dynamic dysfunctions that may contribute to unhealthy behavioral patterns, and to facilitate healing from the pain of active addiction within these relationships. We have found that effective family therapy vastly improves the outlook for long-term recovery for our compulsive gambling patients.


After primary care in our residential treatment program, we encourage a continuum of care for our patients. In order to ensure that clients have the best possible foundation for long-term, fulfilling recovery from compulsive gambling, we coordinate ongoing therapy for our clients so that they can continue their recovery process once they graduate from our program. This allows clients to further heal from addiction and to develop effective relapse prevention strategies for their life outside of residential treatment. We also encourage patient attendance and participation in twelve-step fellowships, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which can be invaluable support networks for individuals in recovery. Our comprehensive aftercare program following the gambling addiction treatment services at Florida House Experience offer individuals a chance at altering destructive behaviors, healing internal core issues and family systems dysfunction, and spiritual development that allows them to live a life free from the bondage of addiction in every form in which the disease manifests.