Gambling addiction affects more than 6 million adults in the U.S. every year. It’s estimated that only 2 million adults suffer from gambling addiction, while 4 million suffer from problem gambling.
Also known as compulsive gambling, it’s classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a “gambling disorder”.
Gambling (by definition) is a risk — which is why it’s so satisfying for some. But that risk greatens if the person who is betting isn’t able to stop. People with gambling addiction are also likely to suffer from other addictions, such as alcohol, drug, or shopping addiction.
If you struggle to stop betting, have compulsive thoughts about betting, or find your relationships, job, or finances are suffering because of gambling, there are resources available that may help.
Gambling Addiction Symptoms
If you’re worried that you or someone else might suffer from problem gambling or gambling addiction, you may simply want to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
Preoccupation with gambling or gambling-related activities
Constant thoughts of gambling
Increased gambling or activities
Using gambling as escapism
Loss of control around gambling
Financial issues caused by gambling
Trying to recoup gambling losses
Lying or stealing because of gambling
Many people with compulsive gambling habits may also see their relationships suffer. Marriage, familial relationships, and friendships may worsen because the person is so preoccupied with gambling.
Gambling Addiction Causes
The causes of gambling addiction may be biological, environmental, or genetic.
People who suffer from gambling addiction or problem gambling may also suffer from other addictive behaviors, such as alcohol, drug, or shopping addiction.
The important thing to remember is that you have no control over your gambling addiction. Whether you experience losses or wins, you may simply not be able to stop gambling.
Gambling Addiction Risk Factors
Some factors may also increase the risk of problem gambling or addiction.
A family medical history of mental health conditions, environmental factors (constantly being around gambling or those who gamble regularly), and personal mental health conditions may increase the risk of developing a gambling addiction.
Consequences of Problem Gambling & Gambling Addiction
Problem gambling and gambling addiction may lead to personal problems, such as financial, relationship, legal, job performance, and mental health problems.
One of the most common consequences associated with gambling addiction is financial issues.
If you feel a loss of control when gambling, you may not be able to prevent financial losses associated with problem gambling and gambling addiction. Even when you’re “up” you’re not immune from future losses.
Funds that are earmarked for bills, groceries, utilities, rent, etc. may end up being spent on gambling instead.
Since there is a time cost to gambling (those with addictions may not be able to stop gambling, especially when betting online), financial-related tasks may not be completed.
Some problem gamblers may even ask to borrow money from friends and family to try to recoup losses or pay bills. They may even experience a loss in quality of life because they cannot afford to gamble and manage their financial responsibilities.
Anyone who suffers from addiction may experience physical consequences.
Addiction may cause physical symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, and more.
Those suffering from gambling addiction may experience physical symptoms, such as lack of sleep, extreme weight loss or weight gain, or gastrointestinal issues.
Many also suffer from mood disorders, such as irritability, depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
Relationship consequences of gambling issues may depend on the person. Marital and parental issues are common, as are friendship issues.
Since the person may have guilt about a problem gambling, they may lie to friends and family about their habits. They may also avoid social situations or responsibilities because doing so may prevent them from gambling in person or online.
Gambling addictions may also lead to other destructive behaviors, such as lying, cheating, stealing, and more. This behavior may drive a wedge between the person suffering from the addiction and their family members or friends as a result.
Those who suffer from problem gambling may encounter legal consequences if they resort to illegal methods to pay their gambling debts or to fund their gambling accounts.
This may result in legal consequences, such as fines and jail time.
If friends or family are the victims of their crimes, their relationships may further suffer; jail time or fines can also put a strain on familial relationships. Legal issues, such as divorce or child custody battles may ensue.
Failing to pay bills on time may also lead to legal consequences, such as liens or reposession of property.
Any addiction can take a toll on a person’s job or career and take precedence in a person’s life.
People with gambling addictions may spend an inordinate amount of time betting, thinking about betting, or organizing their schedules to make room for gambling-related activities.
This may cause them to miss work, or they may not be able to focus on work-related activities. Some people with a gambling addiction may also face work-related legal consequences.
Gambling Addiction Treatment
There is no cure for gambling addiction, but there are ways to treat this mental health condition.
Those who suffer from problem gambling may need to try several treatment options or a combination of treatments before they are able to stop obsessing about betting.
A few treatments that are recommended by mental health professionals include counseling, support groups, and self-exclusion lists.
It’s important to remember that you cannot “control” compulsive gambling.
Even if you’re unsure if you have a gambling problem, you may want to reach out to a counselor or support group — or sign up for a self-exclusion list or take a break from gambling.
Mental Health/Gambling Addiction Specialists
One of the most effective treatments for problem gambling and gambling addiction is talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Since many use gambling as a way to avoid uncomfortable emotions or situations, talking to a mental health professional may help to get to the root cause of problem gambling. Mental health professionals may also be able to provide ways to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression — other than gambling.
Mental health professionals may encourage you to get to the bottom of your compulsion to gamble. Are you trying to avoid your problems or responsibilities? Or are you simply trying to chase the endorphin “high” gambling offers?
They may also offer insights on how to avoid the impulse to gamble. Remembering the consequences of gambling, including relationship, career, financial, and physical consequences may help you decide to avoid going to the casino or sportsbook or logging onto a gambling website or app.
Support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, may help reduce the urge to gamble. These groups offer both mental health counseling and support from others who suffer from these conditions.
They offer proactive ways to stop gambling as well as support for dealing with the issues that may have led to gambling in the first place.
If you need to talk to someone right away (you’re worried you may gamble before you can contact your sponsor, support group, or counselor),
Gambling can be very difficult to avoid for some. Land-based casinos or sportsbooks are legal in 48 states, and online gambling is legal in more than two dozen states.
Now that online gambling is being legalized across the U.S., it may be even more difficult for people with problem gambling and addictions to avoid it.
No longer do you need to drive to a casino or sportsbook to place bets.
One way to remove the temptation to gamble is to get on self-exclusion lists. Once you’re on such a list, it will be illegal for a casino or sportsbook to pay out winnings to you. There are even some tools that will add you to self-exclusion lists in every state if you’re worried you may gamble when crossing state lines.
Online gambling platforms are also required to offer self-exclusion lists, betting and deposit maximums (daily, weekly, monthly), and other tools to help prevent problem gambling.
Problem Gambling Resources
Arizona: Arizona Department of Gaming/1-800-NEXT-STEP
Colorado: Colorado Department Revenue/1-800-522-4700
Connecticut: Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling/1-888-789-7777
Florida: Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling/888-ADMIT-IT (236-4848)
New Jersey: Problem Gambling Resources/1-800-GAMBLER
Michigan: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Gambling Disorder/800-270-7117
West Virginia: The Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia/1-800-522-4700
Illinois: Illinois Department of Human Services/1-800-GAMBLER or text ILGAMB to 83324
Indiana: Family and Social Services Administration/800-994-8448
Iowa: Iowa Department of Public Health/1-800-BETS-OFF
Louisiana: Louisiana Department of Health/1-877-770-STOP (7867)
Mississippi: Mississippi Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling/1-888-777-9696
New Hampshire: NH Council on Problem Gambling/603-724-1605
New York: New York Office of Addiction Services and Supports/1-877-8-HOPENY or text HOPENY (467369)
Ohio: Problem Gambling Resources/800-589-9966
Pennsylvania: Gaming Control Board Resources/1-800-GAMBLER
Tennessee: Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services/800-889-9789
Virginia: Virginia Council on Problem Gambling/1-888-532-3500
Washington, DC: National Council on Problem Gambling/1-800-522-4700
Legal Gambling Age
See our overview of the Legal Gambling Age in every US state for every type of gambling.