Is Marijuana Abuse Related to Gambling Addiction?

Is Marijuana Abuse Related to Gambling Addiction?

Marijuana, the flower of cannabis plants, contains the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which binds to the cannabinoid receptor system in the brain during use. Highlighting its addiction potential, the 2003 book Cannabis Use and Dependence estimates that 4.4% of the US population abuses the drug at some point in their lives. Gambling, meanwhile, has the distinction of being the first officially recognized process addiction by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Released in 2013, the fifth edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) changed pathological gambling from an impulse control disorder to a process addiction, which itself was a new addiction category. While one addiction involves a substance and the other a behavior, both are rooted in genetics, neurobiology and environment.

In a 2011 public policy statement defining addiction, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) described it as a disease affecting brain reward, memory, motivation, neurotransmissions and neural circuitry. Likewise, the ASAM estimated that genetic predisposition typically plays an equal or leading role in addiction development. In other words, the same genetic vulnerabilities make a person susceptible to both process and substance addictions, which in turn cause similar changes in a person’s neurobiology. When justifying the introduction of process addictions in the DSM-V, the APA noted the similar ways in which gambling disorders and substance abuse affect the brain’s reward system.

Marijuana abuse and gambling addiction can also be connected through environmental factors, which potentially include the following:

  • Marijuana use may be an effort to relax after gambling binges or substantial losses
  • Gamblers who know they have problems may relapse more easily when high
  • An addict may start selling or transporting marijuana to pay off gambling debts
  • Unemployment, breakups and other life struggles can motivate addiction-related acts
  • Risk-taking traits developed through gambling can extend to other risks like drug use

Addiction, which the APA classifies as a mental health disorder, may also be influenced by other co-occurring disorders. Consider these conclusions from the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2013:

  • 86% of gambling addiction patients screened for additional mental health disorders
  • Multiple co-occurring disorders were more common with severe gambling problems
  • Patients with co-occurring disorders had higher rates of poor psychosocial functioning

The Minnesota Medicine journal added in 2007 that depression is a common co-occurring disorder with gambling addiction, and it may be amplified by gambling-related shame, embarrassment and financial struggles. In such scenarios, marijuana and other drugs may be used to suppress symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Rehabilitation centers typically screen for co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders, and if a Dual Diagnosis is made, integrated therapies are used to treat all the diagnoses at the same time. Concurrent care provides for a more complete recovery and helps remove potential relapse risks. Possible types of treatment include the following:

  • Talk therapies to improve coping strategies and address gambling triggers
  • Behavioral therapies that promote healthier thought patterns and beliefs
  • Personalized plans to identify, avoid and neutralize high-risk situations
  • Motivational interviewing and contingency management to inspire change
  • Group and individual counseling sessions to improve daily life skills
  • Optional holistic therapies that may include massage, yoga and acupuncture

Our admissions coordinators can assist you 24 hours a day with information on process and substance addictions like gambling and marijuana. We can answer questions about rehabilitation facilities, treatment methods and financial support options, which can include health insurance benefits that we can look up and explain. Untreated addictions only get worse so please call our toll-free helpline now.