Are you or a loved one dealing with a gambling problem? Explore the warning signs and symptoms and learn how to stop.
What is gambling addiction and problem gambling?
Gambling problems can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Your gambling goes from a fun, harmless diversion to an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino, at the track, or online—a gambling problem can strain your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster. You may even do things you never thought you would, like running up huge debts or even stealing money to gamble.
Gambling addiction—also known aspathological gambling, compulsive gamblingor gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder. If you're a compulsive gambler, you can't control the impulse to gamble, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones. You'll gamble whether you're up or down, broke or flush, and you'll keep gambling regardless of the consequences—even when you know that the odds are against you or you can't afford to lose.
Of course, you can also have a gambling problem without being totally out of control. Problem gamblingis any gambling behavior that disrupts your life. If you're preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences in your life, you have a gambling problem.
A gambling addiction or problem is often associated with other behavior or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To overcome your gambling problems, you'll also need to address these and any other underlying causes as well.
Although it may feel like you’re powerless to stop gambling, there are plenty of things you can do to overcome the problem, repair your relationships and finances, and finally regain control of your life.
The first step is to separate the myths from the facts about gambling problems:
|Myths and Facts about Gambling Problems|
Myth: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler.
Fact: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
Myth: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.
Fact: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
Myth: Having a gambling problem is just a case of being weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent.
Fact: Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
Myth: Partners of problem gamblers often drive their loved ones to gamble.
Fact: Problem gamblers often try to rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
Myth: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it.
Fact: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling their gambling problems to continue.
Gambling addiction signs and symptoms
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as a “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers also typically deny or minimize the problem—even to themselves. However, you may have a gambling problem if you:
Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won't understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.
Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you've spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
Gamble even when you don't have the money. You may gamble until you've spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don't have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money.
Have family and friends worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they've gambled away their inheritance, but it's never too late to make changes for the better.
Speak to a Therapist Now
Affordable private online therapy. Get instant help, on any device, wherever you are in the world. Start feeling better today!
GET 20% OFF
With over 25,000 licensed counselors, BetterHelp has a therapist that fits your needs. Sign up today and get matched.
GET 20% OFF
Get professional online counseling for relationship or marital issues. It’s confidential, convenient, and easy to get started.
GET 20% OFF
Self-help for gambling problems
The biggest step to overcoming a gambling addiction is realizing that you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. Don't despair, and don't try to go it alone. Many others have been in your shoes and have been able to break the habit and rebuild their lives. You can, too.
Learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways. Do you gamble when you're lonely or bored? Or after a stressful day at work or following an argument with your spouse? Gambling may be a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions, unwind, or socialize. But there are healthier and more effective ways of managing your moods and relieving boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don't gamble, taking up new hobbies, or practicing relaxation techniques.
Strengthen your support network. It's tough to battle any addiction without support, so reach out to friends and family. If your support network is limited, there are ways to make new friends without relying on visiting casinos or gambling online. Try reaching out to colleagues at work, joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a good cause.
Join a peer support group. Gamblers Anonymous, for example, is a 12-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of the program is finding a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience remaining free from addiction and can provide you invaluable guidance and support.
[Read: Support Groups: Types, Benefits, and What to Expect]
Seek help for underlying mood disorders. Depression, stress, substance abuse, or anxiety can both trigger gambling problems and be made worse by compulsive gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, these problems will still remain, so it's important to address them.
How to stop gambling for good
For many problem gamblers, it's not quitting gambling that's the biggest challenge, but rather staying in recovery—making a permanent commitment to stay away from gambling. The Internet has made gambling far more accessible and, therefore, harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online casinos and bookmakers are open all day, every day for anyone with a smartphone or access to a computer. But maintaining recovery from gambling addiction or problem gambling is still possible if you surround yourself with people to whom you're accountable, avoid tempting environments and websites, give up control of your finances (at least at first), and find healthier activities to replace gambling in your life.
Making healthier choices
One way to stop gambling is to remove the elements necessary for gambling to occur in your life and replace them with healthier choices. The four elements needed for gambling to continue are:
A decision: For gambling to happen, you need to make the decision to gamble. If you have an urge: stop what you are doing and call someone, think about the consequences to your actions, tell yourself to stop thinking about gambling, and find something else to do immediately.
Money: Gambling cannot occur without money. Get rid of your credit cards, let someone else be in charge of your money, have the bank make automatic payments for you, close online betting accounts, and keep only a limited amount of cash on you.
Time: Even online gambling cannot occur if you don't have the time. Schedule enjoyable recreational time for yourself that has nothing to do with gambling. If you're gambling on your smartphone, find other ways to fill the quiet moments during your day.
A game: Without a game or activity to bet on there is no opportunity to gamble. Don't put yourself in tempting environments. Tell gambling establishments you frequent that you have a gambling problem and ask them to restrict you from entering. Remove gambling apps and block gambling sites on your smartphone and computer.
Finding alternatives to gambling
Maintaining recovery from gambling addiction depends a lot on finding alternative behaviors you can substitute for gambling. Some examples include:
|Reason for gambling||Sample substitute behaviors|
|To provide excitement, get a rush of adrenaline||Sport or a challenging hobby, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, or Go Kart racing|
|To be more social, overcome shyness or isolation||Counseling, enroll in a public speaking class, join a social group, connect with family and friends, volunteer, find new friends|
|To numb unpleasant feelings, not think about problems||Try therapy or use HelpGuide's free Emotional Intelligence toolkit|
|Boredom or loneliness||Find something you're passionate about such as art, music, sports, or books and then find others with the same interests|
|To relax after a stressful day||As little as 15 minutes of daily exercise can relieve stress. Or deep breathing, meditation, or massage|
|To solve money problems||The odds are always stacked against you so it's far better to seek help with debts from a credit counselor|
Dealing with gambling cravings
Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but as you build healthier choices and a strong support network, resisting cravings will become easier. When a gambling craving strikes:
Avoid isolation. Call a trusted family member, meet a friend for coffee, or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.
Postpone gambling. Tell yourself that you'll wait 5 minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour. As you wait, the urge to gamble may pass or become weak enough to resist.
Visualize what will happen if you give in to the urge to gamble. Think about how you'll feel after all your money is gone and you've disappointed yourself and your family again.
Distract yourself with another activity, such as going to the gym, watching a movie, or practicing a relaxation exercise for gambling cravings.
Coping with lapses
If you aren't able to resist the gambling craving, don't be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.
Gambling addiction treatment
Overcoming a gambling problem is never easy and seeking professional treatment doesn't mean that you're weak in some way or can't handle your problems. But it's important to remember that every gambler is unique so you need a recovery program tailored specifically to your needs and situation. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about different treatment options, including:
Inpatient or residential treatment and rehab programs. These are aimed at those with severe gambling addiction who are unable to avoid gambling without round-the-clock support.
Treatment for underlying conditions contributing to your compulsive gambling, including substance abuse or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADHD. This could include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Problem gambling can sometimes be a symptom of bipolar disorder, so your doctor or therapist may need to rule this out before making a diagnosis.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT for gambling addiction focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, such as rationalizations and false beliefs. It can also teach you how to fight gambling urges and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by problem gambling. Therapy can provide you with the tools for coping with your addiction that will last a lifetime.
Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling. These can help you work through the specific issues that have been created by your problem gambling and lay the foundation for repairing your relationships and finances.
How to help someone stop gambling
If your loved one has a gambling problem, you likely have many conflicting emotions. You may have spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep your loved one from gambling or having to cover for them. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. Your loved one may have borrowed or even stolen money with no way to pay it back. They may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards.
While compulsive and problem gamblers need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling, the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling. However, you can encourage them to seek help, support them in their efforts, protect yourself, and take any talk of suicide seriously.
Preventing suicide in problem gamblers
When faced with the consequences of their actions, problem gamblers can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among compulsive gamblers. If you suspect your loved one is feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. at 1-800-273-8255 or visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a suicide helpline in your country.
Four tips for family members:
- Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don't blame yourself for the gambler's problems or let his or her addiction dominate your life. Ignoring your own needs can be a recipe for burnout.
- Don't go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one's gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests “this one last time.” Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem.
- Set boundaries in managing money. To ensure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse, consider taking over the family finances. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler's impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
- Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation, or even threats to get it. It takes practice to ensure you are not enabling your loved one's gambling addiction.
|Do's and Don'ts for Partners of Problem Gamblers|
Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson
Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.x16_Substance_Related_Disorders
Yau, Y. H. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2015). Gambling Disorder and Other Behavioral Addictions: Recognition and Treatment. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 23(2), 134–146. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000051
Ford, M., & Håkansson, A. (2020). Problem gambling, associations with comorbid health conditions, substance use, and behavioural addictions: Opportunities for pathways to treatment. PLOS ONE, 15(1), e0227644. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227644
Ioannidis, K., Hook, R., Wickham, K., Grant, J. E., & Chamberlain, S. R. (2019). Impulsivity in Gambling Disorder and problem gambling: A meta-analysis. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(8), 1354–1361. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-019-0393-9
Wardle, H., & McManus, S. (2021). Suicidality and gambling among young adults in Great Britain: Results from a cross-sectional online survey. The Lancet. Public Health, 6(1), e39–e49. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30232-2
Get more help
Freedom from Problem Gambling (PDF) – Self-help workbook for compulsive gamblers, with tips on how to avoid relapse and fight gambling urges. (UCLA Gambling Studies Program)
Problem Gamblers and their Finances (PDF) – Guide for treatment professionals on how to help a problem gambler cope with financial problems. (National Endowment for Financial Education)
Personal Financial Strategies for the Loved Ones of Problem Gamblers (PDF) – How to deal with financial issues due to a loved one’s gambling. (National Council on Problem Gambling)
Hotlines and support groups
In the U.S.: The National Council on Problem Gambling Helplineoffers a confidential, 24-hour helpline for problem gamblers or their family members at 1-800-522-4700.
UK: Gamcareoffers support and a helpline at 0808 8020 133.
Australia: Gambling Help Onlineoffers a 24-hour helpline at 1800 858 858.
Canada: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health offers resources and a helpline at 1-866-531-2600.
Internationally: Gamblers Anonymousoffers 12-step support meetings for people with a gambling problem, whileGam-Anonoffers support for the problem gambler's family members.
Around the web
Last updated: October 21, 2022
What is the problem of gambling? ›
Effects of problem gambling
reduced quality of life – having less money or free time. problems with your social life – avoiding seeing friends or going out. physical illnesses caused by spending more time gambling and less time being active, as well as potentially drinking more alcohol.
- Talk to your support person.
- Write your feelings and actions in your gambling diary. If you gambled, look at what happened and see if you can spot ways of stopping it next time. ...
- Control your cash. ...
- Fill in the gap that gambling has left with new things to do.
- Practise your relaxation.
You can simply cancel your service if you are not happy with that, but that's all – unless there is something seriously and legally wrong with your service, you cannot ask for a refund, and there is no way of getting your money back from the gambling site.Why can't I stop gambling? ›
People who gamble compulsively often have substance misuse problems, personality disorders, depression or anxiety. Compulsive gambling may also be associated with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).What are the 3 types of gambling? ›
Although there is no universally accepted classification, the five types of gambling are sports betting, casino games, poker, raffles, lottery, and coin flipping.Who is at risk of gambling addiction? ›
A 2008 study showed that people with psychiatric disorders are 17 times more likely to develop gambling problems. Personality traits. People who tend to be restless, easily bored, extremely hard-working, or very competitive may be at greater risk of developing gambling disorder.Is there medication for gambling addiction? ›
Clinically, several medications are available in the United States that have been used in treating gambling disorder, including naltrexone (an opioid antagonist), lithium (a mood stabilizer) and a variety of other antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.Can a gambler be cured? ›
Is there a cure for gambling? No. But as with any other addiction, steps can be taken to break the hold gambling has over your life or over the lives of your loved ones. Whether you gamble all the time and cannot stop or go on binges that spiral out of control, the time to seek help is now.What drugs cause gambling addiction? ›
Moreover, further medications, including aripiprazole, modafinil, rotigotine, sertraline, citalopram, and lamotrigine, were associated to the occurrence of gambling disorder (George et al.Can I claim gambling losses? ›
You may deduct gambling losses only if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040) and kept a record of your winnings and losses. The amount of losses you deduct can't be more than the amount of gambling income you reported on your return.
How can gambling affect your mental health? ›
Gambling can cause low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression if gambling becomes a problem. Gambling can become an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, if you use it compulsively or feel out of control. Gambling can affect the part of our brain that releases dopamine.Can I sue a casino for losses? ›
It depends on what kind of treatment you need. The casino will be liable for any medical bills related to your accident. Lost wages – If you miss time from work, your attorney will demand compensation. They'll also demand that you be paid for any future income you lose.What can I replace gambling with? ›
Celebration & Gambling Addiction Recovery
- Enjoy a trip to a local recreational venue. You might not go to a casino or bar – but what about a family-friendly park or zoo?
- Volunteer. ...
When we have a gambling win, the brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine. But when we gamble often, our brain gets used to the dopamine, which makes that winning feeling difficult to achieve. Consequently, we may have to gamble more and more to feel the same level of pleasure.How do I start over after gambling? ›
- Learn to Forgive Yourself.
- Realize Relapse Is a Part of Recovery.
- Deal With Your Triggers.
- Adjust Your Sobriety Strategy.
- Find the Professional Help You Need.
- Talk to Your Family and Friends.
Most researchers acknowledge that legalized gambling may have positive economic impacts. These may include increased employment, higher average wages, capital inflow, increased tax revenues, and more choice for consumers.Is gambling a disorder? ›
Gambling disorder involves repeated, problem gambling behavior. The behavior leads to problems for the individual, families, and society. Adults and adolescents with gambling disorder have trouble controlling their gambling. They will continue even when it causes significant problems.What is the cause of gambling addiction? ›
What Causes an Addiction to Gambling? Many factors can contribute to a gambling addiction, including desperation for money, the desire to experience thrills and highs, the social status associated with being a successful gambler, and the entertaining atmosphere of the mainstream gambling scene.Is gambling addiction a mental illness? ›
Gambling addiction is a type of impulse-control disorder where you have little or no control over your urge to gamble, even when you are aware that your actions can hurt yourself and others and even when the odds are against you.What is the most effective treatment for gambling? ›
The most frequently studied treatment type for gambling disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of treatment attempts to change the thoughts and behaviors that are fundamental to maintaining a pattern of behavior (e.g., gambling disorder).
Can I stop gambling cold turkey? ›
For most people, it can be almost impossible to quit cold turkey, and it's even harder to navigate the recovery process alone. Fortunately, several treatment options and programs are available for problem gamblers and their loved ones. Reach out to 1-800-GAMBLER today to discover your options for recovery.What are the main symptoms of someone who is addicted to gambling? ›
- You lie about your gambling habits. ...
- You gamble more than you can afford to lose. ...
- Gambling negatively affects your emotions. ...
- You borrow money to pay for gambling. ...
- You gamble until all your money is gone. ...
- You attempt to recover losses by gambling more. ...
- You are obsessed with gambling.
- Ask them if a problem exists.
- Encourage them to get help. And remember, you can't make someone ready to change — but discussing it is the first important step.
- Be honest with them and gently talk about how their actions make you feel.
- Urge your husband or wife to get professional help.
- Be assertive so that they know you're serious.
- Do not make threats.
- Follow through on every point you make.
- Focus on the issue at hand, not past behavior.
- Tell them you will no longer bail them out of their gambling debts.
When people take drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines, for example, they experience artificially induced dopamine surges which give them the rewarding “high” they crave. The same dopamine “highs” occur in people addicted to behaviours like gambling, sex and exercise.When does gambling become an addiction? ›
No one can predict who will develop an addiction to gambling. The activity can be described on a spectrum , ranging from abstinence through recreational gambling to problem gambling. Gambling behavior becomes a problem when it cannot be controlled and when it interferes with finances, relationships, and the workplace.How does gambling affect the society? ›
We identified gambling-related debt as a crucial harm that can lead to other harms such as relationship problems, physical and mental health problems, and crime. The financial difficulties and debt experienced by gamblers and affected others were often severe.
This mental health condition is more common than you may think. As many as 10 million Americans live with a gambling addiction.Why is gambling so addictive? ›
Gambling is addictive because it stimulates the brain's reward system much like drugs or alcohol can. In fact, gambling addiction is the most common impulse control disorder worldwide.How does gambling affect the brain? ›
When we have a gambling win, the brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine. But when we gamble often, our brain gets used to the dopamine, which makes that winning feeling difficult to achieve. Consequently, we may have to gamble more and more to feel the same level of pleasure.
How does gambling affect a person? ›
Gambling can cause low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression if gambling becomes a problem. Gambling can become an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, if you use it compulsively or feel out of control. Gambling can affect the part of our brain that releases dopamine.How does gambling affect human mental health? ›
It causes strained relationships and a feeling of separation from other people. Also, it could lead to a feeling of shame or guilt which can overwhelm the gambler eventually. This is because the gambler may have borrowed money from other people and may not be able to return it.How does gambling affect our daily lives? ›
Harm from gambling isn't just about losing money. Gambling can affect self-esteem, relationships, physical and mental health, work performance and social life. It can harm not only the person who gambles but also family, friends, workplaces and communities.What do you call a person who is addicted to gambling? ›
Compulsive gambling: The term most commonly used by the public to describe someone with a gambling disorder, but generally rejected by the therapeutic community in favor of pathological gambling. The term disordered gambling is also sometimes used.How can you tell if someone is a problem gambler? ›
- Becoming withdrawn from others/family events.
- Performance at work is being affected.
- Seeming worried, agitated or upset for no apparent reason.
- Reporting feeling hopeless, depressed, frustrated or suicidal.
Gambling addiction is a treatable issue. The key to effective treatment is addressing the underlying emotions that lead to the addiction, since most problem gamblers use gambling to deal with psychological pain.What is the personality of a gambler? ›
Summary: Disorganized and emotionally unstable, poorly adapted, suffering from alcohol problems, impulsive, or with a "globally adapted" personality. These are the features of the four diagnosed types of compulsive gamblers identified by researchers in Spain.What are five signs or symptoms of gambling addiction? ›
- Secrecy. Finding it necessary to keep gambling a secret. ...
- Difficulty Resisting the Urge to Gamble. Having difficulties resisting the urge to gamble. ...
- Spending More Money Than You Have. Gambling when you cannot afford to. ...
- Denial. Your friends and family express concern about your gambling.
Of course, as with any other addiction, the hallmark sign of a gambling problem is that you feel you cannot stop. If you feel like you need to try just one more time, or if you feel anxious when you think about quitting, it is highly likely you are suffering from a gambling addiction.Can gambling be cured? ›
There's evidence that gambling can be successfully treated in the same way as other addictions. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) usually has the best results. Treatment and support groups are available for people who want to stop gambling.
What are the benefits of gambling? ›
Most researchers acknowledge that legalized gambling may have positive economic impacts. These may include increased employment, higher average wages, capital inflow, increased tax revenues, and more choice for consumers.