Although it is most commonly used to help autistic children function more effectively in society, applied behavior analysis can also be used to treat various addictive behaviors. Pathological gambling, or problem gambling, is considered an impulse control disorder. Applied behavior analysis has been shown to be effective in treating and managing impulse control disorders, so it stands to reason that it could help those who are addicted to gambling too.

A few of the ways in which applied behavior analysis can help those addicted to gambling include:

1. Self-Reporting Feelings, Actions and Behaviors

People who are undergoing applied behavior analysis are often asked to keep journals that track the feelings and emotions that they experience before, during and after engaging in gambling. This is often the first step in the analytical process, as it helps the therapist and the patient connect seemingly disparate events to make sense of impulsive behavior.

2. Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement may be a useful approach to attempt for someone who is coping with a gambling addiction, and it is occasionally used in the context of applied behavior analysis. This step typically doesn’t occur until at least some progress has been made. Once triggers have been identified, a gambling addict may gradually learn to recognize their onset. Any time they are able to resist such triggers and avoid gambling, they are supposed to reward themselves in some way. Even if it is something simple like going out for dessert, the point is to forge positive connections between refraining from impulsive activities and enjoying special rewards.

3. Identifying Triggers

Gambling addictions often coincide with other mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. If conditions like these can be ruled out as the root cause of pathological gambling, applied behavior analysis may be used to identify other potential triggers. For example, some people are triggered to go gamble when payday arrives. Others end up gambling after getting into arguments with loved ones. By identifying events that trigger impulsive gambling behavior, the therapist and patient can work toward responding to them in more productive, less destructive ways.

4. Recognize Consequences

Identifying the immediate and delayed consequences of problem gambling is an effective technique that may be used in applied behavior analysis. Oftentimes, it is difficult for the gambling addict to make connections between their gambling and the ensuing negative consequences. With applied behavior analysis, they work with a therapist to understand the minor and major ways in which their impulsive behavior is negatively impacting their life. Talking through these consequences and the fact that they would stop occurring if the impulsive gambling stopped may be an effective way to slowly but surely overcome the problem.

5. Identify Alternative Behaviors and Activities

When performed properly, applied behavior analysis should arm a gambling addict with alternative actions that they can take when they feel triggered to engage in gambling. A skilled therapist will help the gambling addict identify activities that they enjoy doing and that they can easily engage in whenever the urge to gamble strikes. If their problem gambling involves driving to a casino, for instance, they might drive to a gym, movie theater or museum instead. By simply shifting their behavior to a different activity, they may be able to rewire their thinking processes to the point where they no longer wish to gamble.

If you are considering a career as a therapist or counselor, you will be introduced to applied behavior analysis during your studies. Should you find it interesting, you might consider using it in your career to help those who are addicted to gambling.