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What Exactly is a Gambling Addiction?

Kris Lozano

For some, gambling can be fun, low-risk, and occasional, but for others, gambling can take over and ruin their lives. What exactly is a gambling addiction? And how does it turn from a fun and light-hearted game, into the bane of someone’s existence?

A gambling disorder, sometimes called compulsive gambling, is characterized simply as when someone will continue gambling despite negative consequences in their life. Any time someone gambles, they are attempting to risk something in an attempt to get something greater. However, because there is always a risk involved, gambling can quickly affect a person’s brain and change their priorities, behavior, and ethics.

Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling (gambling disorder) include:

  • Thinking about gambling a large amount of the time, for example, thinking about how you can get more money to gamble
  • Feeling the need to increase the amount of money you gamble, or feeling less satisfied gambling small amounts
  • Attempting to restrict or limit your gambling
  • Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Jeopardizing or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
  • Resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money
  • Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away

Problem gamblers will continue to gamble even when they see negative consequences from the activity, such as problems with work or family, financial loss, or changes in their personality. Whereas most casual gamblers will stop when they are losing, or if they have reached a set limit such as time or amount of money spent, people who struggle with problem gambling will continue.

Some problem gamblers will see temporary times of remission where they are gambling less, and this can lead to them feeling like they “have it under control,” or trying to convince their loved ones that they don’t have a problem, but for gambling addicts, this time is always temporary.

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may have a problem with gambling, there is a lot of helpful information, resources, and an online chat on the National Council on Problem Gambling website, or you can call or text their hotline at 1-800-522-4700.