There are many terms used to describe gambling addiction, including compulsive gambling, pathological gambling, and problem gambling. Whatever term you use to describe the addiction, up to 10 million Americans struggle with gambling addiction. Pathological gambling was first added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980 in large part due to Dr. Robert Custer’s extensive clinical work with problem gamblers. Despite the widespread belief that some forms of gambling are more addictive than others, research does not substantiate these claims. Casino games, sports betting, bingo, and lottery are all potentially addictive.
According to the National Center For Responsible Gambling, young people are more prone to problem gambling than adults. Despite the grim statistics, gambling addiction is a treatable disease. So much so that up to one-third of problem gamblers recover independently without the help of formal treatment. Compulsive gamblers also have bountiful resources to help them fight their addiction.
Gambling addiction can be a debilitating disease and comes with emotional, physical, and psychological symptoms. Gambling addiction symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders include:
There isn’t a single cause of gambling addiction. According to Mayo Clinic, certain risk factors make some people prone to gambling addiction. These include:
Gambling addiction can have severe implications in many different areas of life. This is why problem gamblers should prioritize seeking help. Some of the adverse effects of problem gambling include:
More often than not, financial problems are the first noticeable sign of problem gambling. Part of the reason is pathological gamblers often unsuccessfully attempt to win back lost money. Such a gambler erroneously thinks money is the cause and solution to all their problems. Such thinking is associated with chasing that ever-elusive ‘big win’ that would permanently solve their financial issues.
Typical manifestations of financial problems in compulsive gamblers include:
The National Council on Problem Gambling and the National Endowment for Financial Education have an exceptional guide for treatment professionals. This guide, aptly named Problem Gamblers and Their Finances, is worth reading for more information about solving money issues brought about by problem gambling.
Partners and children of problem gamblers are often the hardest hit collateral damage of gambling addiction. Relationship damage often impacts the extended family as well, including parents, grandparents, and siblings.
Problem gambling can lead to emotional problems, financial difficulties, and impaired family relationships in family settings. Family members can also develop health problems as they attempt to change the addict’s behavior.
In many cases, spouses aren’t immediately aware of the extent of their partner’s gambling debts and financial losses. The truth is usually revealed when serious legal or financial crises emerge.
Gambling addiction can also drive a wedge between partners. Compulsive gambling consumes excessive time and resources, causing partners to feel disconnected and isolated. Problem gambling can also take center stage in spouses’ lives, particularly fights and lies about gambling.
Finally, studies show that there is a strong correlation between problem gambling and domestic violence.
There is also a strong connection between problem gambling and legal issues. Problem gamblers are more likely to commit crimes, be arrested, and be incarcerated than the general population. Problem gamblers are also more likely to engage in illegal behaviors such as using drugs.
Additionally, problem gamblers are more likely to engage in illegal activities to fund their habit. These activities may include embezzlement, fraud, or theft. Problem gamblers soon exhaust legitimate avenues of obtaining money. Desperation may lead them to acquire the money through illegal means.
Gambling addiction can also have a severe impact on job performance. Preoccupation with gambling can cause the employee to lose valuable work time. For example, the addict may be gambling, thinking about gambling, or plotting how to get money for gambling instead of working.
As we saw earlier, problem gambling can impact the addict’s physical, mental, and emotional health. This may lead to shoddy quality work, missing project deadlines, becoming unreliable, and even suicide attempts.
The employee may also develop stress-related illnesses, further negatively impacting their attendance and work performance. Finally, problem gamblers may embezzle, defraud, or steal from their employer.
Pathological gambling can bring about a host of mental health issues. These issues typically occur because of the stressful winning and losing cycles gamblers find themselves in. Common mental health problems caused by pathological gambling may include:
Problem gamblers also often develop heightened feelings of desperation, shame, guilt, and hopelessness. Up to 24% of pathological gamblers will attempt suicide in their lifetime. These suicide attempts typically take place immediately after a significant loss. Additionally, suicidal ideation is higher among problem gamblers.
Problem gamblers are also at higher risk of developing stress-related illnesses. These issues may include sleep deprivation, hypertension, peptic ulcer disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Problem gambling can be a lonely, anxiety-ridden, and emotionally intense disease. Still, there is always hope for making a full recovery.
As with any other type of addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Be honest with yourself and commit to getting better. We have already highlighted some of the common symptoms of gambling addiction. It is still worth taking a self-assessment test to discover if you have a gambling problem. Gamblers Anonymous offers a free gambling addiction self-assessment test here.
The next step is to join a support group. Studies show that joining an addiction support group can help increase optimism and lower depression. Gamblers Anonymous is a great support group designed for people struggling with gambling addiction. The support group uses the well-known 12-step approach that Alcoholics Anonymous uses.
Meanwhile, you may also want to look for alternatives to gambling. With gambling taking up such a massive chunk of your time and energy, consider filling this space with something more productive. Some ideas include exploring new hobbies, physical activities, and meditation.
Finally, consider the consequences of a relapse. Think about the loved one’s emotional pain, the lying, and the financial hardship that comes with a gambling addiction. Make a list of all the reasons why you want to quit gambling. Refer to this list any time you are tempted to fall back to old patterns. Problem gambling is a devastating disease, and the efforts you make to avoid gambling will pay off.
There is no easy way to say it. Getting over gambling addiction is an arduous journey. The outlook is bright as long as you are committed to getting better. You are also not alone. Government agencies and private organizations offer bountiful resources to help problem gamblers.
Consider signing up for self-exclusion. Every state has a self-exclusion program. Joining the program means you voluntarily ban yourself from gambling, usually for one year, five years, or a lifetime.
Casinos also have self-exclusion programs worth exploring. Additionally, most online casinos can offer solutions to mitigate your gambling. These include wagering limits, deposit limits, cooling-off periods, temporary self-exclusion, and time restrictions on gambling. Explore your casino’s Responsible Gaming page for more information on this.
There is also the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network. The National Council on Problem Gambling operates this helpline. Call 1-800-522-4700 for information on local resources for problem gamblers. This service is available for all 50 states and the US Virgin Islands, and Canada. The helpline is open 24/7/365 and also supports text and chat features.
Individual therapy can also help battle gambling addiction. Working one-on-one with a therapist can help identify triggers and develop coping strategies. Group therapy can also be equally effective. In addition to professional help, the support from peers going through similar challenges can significantly help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also proven to be a valuable tool in battling pathological gambling. Specifically, the methodology helps to overcome the delusions that come with problem gambling. For example, problem gamblers believe that they can win big despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. CBT can also be very effective at overcoming the self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that drive gambling addiction.