Gambling Addiction: Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

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Gambling addiction is a disorder referred to as pathological gambling, problem gambling or compulsive gambling. Gambling addiction type is a progressive addiction that manifests in a strong urge to gamble and continue gambling despite negative psychological, physical, and social consequences of gambling.

There are no obvious symptoms of gambling addiction, unlike in drug addiction or alcohol addiction. Many refer to it as a “hidden” disorder and can be hard to diagnose if the symptoms are denied by the addict or in any way minimized. The main symptoms and signs that point to a developing addiction with gambling include financial problems, as well as problems in the family of the addict and physical problems like migraine or depression.

Compulsive gambling can be treated and there are various mental health treatment methods that target such an addiction, including rehabilitation programs, medication and intensive therapy. There are millions of gambling addicts worldwide, with over 10 million Americans battling a compulsive gambling disorder. That is approximately 2.6% of the US population, according to statistics brought forward by the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction in 2017. The American Psychiatric Association reports that there are still no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of progressive gambling addiction. There are hundreds of gambling addiction therapy centers or clinics around the world.


What are the Symptoms of Gambling Addiction?

The symptoms of a gambling addiction are:

  • Sense of loss of control
  • Becoming obsessive about gambling
  • Being secretive about gambling
  • Gambling despite not having money
  • Concern from family and friends regarding the person’s gambling activities
  • Failing in trying to reduce the frequency of gambling or stopping altogether
  • Chasing losses
  • Deterioration in job status or relationship status
  • Selling personal belongings to get money to place bets
  • Turning to fraud or theft to acquire money for gambling

To recognize gambling addiction, the symptoms do not always have to appear in their full capacity. A few of the signs of compulsive gambling can be enough to recognize and stop the addiction.

Want to check if you have a problem. Try our self-assessment test:


How to Diagnose a Gambling Disorder?

To diagnose a gambling disorder, an expert needs to consider various signs and the most common 9 signs of gambling are listed below:

  • Strong need to gamble
  • Persistence in betting higher and higher amounts to feel excited
  • Continuously making plans to gamble
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling or even reduce it
  • Trying to heal distress with gambling
  • Returning to gambling after losses
  • Lying to hide compulsive gambling activities
  • Family, relationship or work problems due to gambling
  • Asking others for money to gamble

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, issued by the American Psychiatric Association, a person should be diagnosed with gambling addiction if they have experienced at least four of the indicators in the past 12 months.


What are the Causes of Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction causes

The causes of gambling addiction can be:

  • Cravings to experience thrill and the sensation of “being high”
  • Desperation for obtaining more money
  • Having an underlying mental health condition
  • Being at a risky age
  • Having characteristics such as “restless”, “highly competitive”, “impulsive”
  • Influences from friends or family
  • Genetic and neurological factors
  • Loneliness
  • Stress or traumatic experiences
  • Retirement

Various factors can contribute to the development of gambling addiction and the process can be observed from complete abstinence through recreational, casual gambling to problem gambling and compulsive gambling.

Studies suggest that people who have a tendency towards one type of addiction are more at risk of developing another, meaning that someone who already has a problem with drugs or alcohol can be affected by problem gambling.

This also relates to the biology of gambling addiction and studies also explain how there may be a genetical component to the problem gambling condition (Limbrick-Oldfield, E., Mick, I., Cocks, R. et al. Transl Psychiatry 7, e992 (2017). Source: doi.org).

Can Retirement Cause Gambling Addiction?

Yes, retirement can increase the chance of developing a gambling addiction. Senior citizens are vulnerable to compulsive gambling for several reasons, including the excess of time they have, the feeling of loneliness and easy access to casinos. People over 60 also have less expenses and can afford to set aside a gambling budget.

Can Stress Increase the Chance of Being Addicted to Gambling?

Yes, stress can be one of the causes of developing a problem gambling disorder. It is often identified as a trigger to gambling behavior because for many people gambling becomes a coping strategy. In the beginning, gambling can help reduce stress, but as the gambling behavior becomes compulsive and out of control it creates even more stress.


How to Heal Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction healing methods

To heal gambling addiction, people should implement the following instructions:

  1. Go to therapy: professional counselors and therapists are widely available. Problem gamblers can benefit from one-on-one therapy (psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy) as a way to address any underlying issues and deep emotional problems that feed their gambling addiction.
  2. Use medications: some addicts need medication to overcome their gambling urges, especially when they have poor impulse control due to being bipolar, for example, or they suffer from depression, OCD or ADHD. In these cases, problem gamblers are prescribed narcotic antagonists – medication like naltrexone, or antidepressants such as fluvoxamine, escitalopram or paroxetine.
  3. Join self-help groups: self-help starts with acknowledging that a gambling problem exists, then joining a peer support group where recovery programs include sharing experiences from people who are free from addiction.
  4. Enter rehabilitation programs: if you cannot avoid gambling without expert help, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs may be the right choice to cure gambling addiction. This requires living in a treatment facility or attending classes at a facility.
  5. Find alternatives for gambling: there are various alternative activities you can do instead of gambling, including sports or hobbies, volunteering, art, books, exercise or getting in touch with a credit counselor to help with debts.
  6. Seek family help: connecting with family and friends during the process of overcoming a gambling addiction is extremely helpful. Someone from the family or group of friends should take on the financial responsibilities of the addict until he or she is cured of addiction.

Each of the treatment methods for gambling addiction has their benefits, but a combination of multiple methods for curing a gambling problem is what gives the best results. Depending on the cause of the addition, some addicts may need medication while others may not. This also applies to the necessity of psychotherapy, rational emotive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. All addicts can benefit from counseling, developing recovery skills and support from spouses, family members and friends.

What are the Treatment Steps of a Gambling Addiction?

The steps for treating gambling addiction are presented below:

  1. Recognizing the problem: a person needs to acknowledge that they are a compulsive gambler. Once they do that, they need to understand that gambling addiction is a medical condition that can be treated.
  2. Avoiding temptation and maintaining control: avoid people, places and activities linked to gambling. Shift your attention to something constructive and more positive when you feel the urge to gamble.
  3. Accepting a treatment plan: accept that you need to join a support group or seek help from a professional. The range of available treatments includes professional treatment methods, support groups and rehabilitation programs.
  4. Executing the treatment plan: if you carry out the treatment from beginning to end you can hope to live in financial stability without giving in to compulsive gambling.
  5. Working on relapse prevention: develop recovery skills that will keep you in check and prevent you from relapsing and gambling again. The primary goal is not to bet, at all, not even a little. Avoid situations that trigger your urge to gamble and think of the consequences (emotional pain, financial hardships). Do not dwell in your past behavior just to feel shame and guilt, but use it as a source of motivation.

Is Therapy Useful for Solving Gambling Addiction?

Yes, therapy is useful in treating gambling addicts. It is beneficial as it can reduce the severity of compulsive gambling (Epstein, I. (2009). Promoting harmony where there is commonly conflict: Evidence-informed practice as an integrative strategy. Social Work in Health Care, 48 (3), 216–231.) Several types of psychotherapy are used to treat pathological gamblers, including psychodynamic therapy, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy and family therapy.

“Cognitive behavior therapy aims to identify and correct cognitive distortions about gambling”. (Fong TW. Types of psychotherapy for pathological gamblers. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2005;2(5):32-39.). Systematic analysis and reviews of research show that cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in reducing problem gambling activities up to 2 years after completing therapy. CBT can last from 8 to 15 sessions and can include various techniques such as challenging the beliefs and attitudes of the addict, decadic techniques and role-playing.


What Are the Types of Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction types

The two main types of compulsive gamblers are:

  1. Action Gambler: someone who starts gambling in adolescence, has self-esteem and demonstrates sociable and overconfident behavior. It takes years to develop this type of gambling disorder.
  2. Escape Gambler: someone who starts gambling when they are 30 and older because they have experienced some type of trauma, loss or abuse. It takes months to develop this type of gambling disorder.

Action gamblers prefer games of skill such as poker or craps, while escape gamblers typically choose games of chance like bingo or slot machines. Action gamblers can hardly confront their issues without the help of a trained professional. Escape gamblers are quicker in finding help for their addiction and more consistent in quitting gambling for good.

How Prevalent is Gambling?

Problem gambling is a condition that affects all parts of the world.

Approximately 1% of the adult population in the United States has a severe gambling problem. (various research supports this, including Alegría AA, Petry NM, Hasin DS, et al.)

An article in Scientific American (2013) presents an argument that around 2 million Americans have a gambling addiction.

In Europe, the prevalence of gambling-addicted people goes from 0.5% to 3%. (“Problem Gaming” (PDF). European Gaming and Betting Association. Retrieved April 4, 2012.)

The Productivity Commission in Australia in its 2016 gambling report states that 0.5% to 1% of Australian adults suffered problems due to their gambling activities.

The Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, and Somalia are African countries that deal with problem gambling the most, whereas in some Asian countries the average problem gambling rates go from 3.8% to 6%.

Should a Gambling Addict Explain it to His/Her Family?

Yes, a person who believes to have become a gambling addict should reach out and tell this to their spouse or close relatives.

To tell your family about gambling addiction you should:

  • Prepare: decide what you want to say and prepare for the conversation. Write down some notes and devise a plan about what you want to announce.
  • Carry out the conversation: find a suitable time and execute the announcement. Include your struggles and be honest.
  • Understand their reaction: be ready for their reaction which can be concern, sadness or anger, but it could also be happiness that you have decided to be honest and acknowledge the problem you have with gambling.
  • Move forward: work on plans to recover and understand that it may take time for your family to accept your addiction and recover with you.

Are Some Gambling Games More Addictive than Others?

Yes, some gambling games are proven to be more addictive than others. Games that are fast and provide instant gratification, such as slots and video poker machines, are the ones that have the highest chance of getting a person addicted to them.

People believe roulette is the easiest casino game to play, but slots are even easier than roulette and that makes slots more accessible and contributes to them being highly addictive. Players who play slots online are most at risk of developing a gambling addiction because playing online makes one think they are not spending real money and everything happens so fast. Slots can have various fun designs and they are simple, which is also why the player does not comprehend the severity of their compulsive gambling.


GamCare

GamCare is the largest problem gambling organization in the world. If you’re living in the UK, congratulations. GamCare offers support options, including therapy, group meetings, a forum, and self-help tools. GamCare is also responsible for the National Gambling Helpline: +(44) 0808-80 20 133.

BeGambleAware

BeGambleAware is a UK-based organization. They focus on information about responsible gambling. On their website, you’ll find self-help tools, a self-assessment test, and references to various gambling help resources.

South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF)

You can call the national helpline run by SARGF: 0800 006 008 if you live in South Africa. The organization offers face-to-face gambling counseling there, you can learn:

  • Strategies for change
  • Working with gambling triggers
  • Set goals
  • Talk about your situation

SARGF can also help you manage money and find alternatives to gambling. The helpline operates 24/7 and is free.

QuitGamble.com

QuitGamble is a digital platform designed to assist individuals struggling with gambling addictions. Members can access the platform 24/7, either through a desktop or a mobile app, and benefit from:

  • A social network tailored for those with gambling issues
  • Engaging in animated video courses
  • Comprehensive guides
  • Chats, forums, and emails

QuitGamble focuses on understanding the reasons behind your gambling problem. This approach allows you to tackle the root causes of your addiction rather than merely attempting to avoid gambling. If you’re seeking help with your gambling habits, consider trying QuitGamble.

GamblingTherapy

Gambling Therapy is an international organization that offers free support for gambling issues. In the forum, you can connect with individuals in similar situations, including those who have been gamble-free for many years, and you can also schedule a personal therapy session (UK only).

Gambling Therapy also has a mobile app with useful tools for overcoming the addiction. Overall, it’s a very active and well-equipped service that can significantly ease your journey, especially when seeking support from individuals experiencing the same challenges.

Gamblers Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is based on support meetings and uses its famous 12-step methodology. GA is a popular choice among gamblers who want to quit worldwide. You can google “GA meeting near me” to find a meeting close to you.

As part of Gamblers Anonymous, you can get a sponsor. A sponsor is an ex-gambler who mentors people who want to stop gambling. If you want to go to physical meetings and work the 12 steps, then GA is a suitable choice.


Author: Katerina Gadzheva
Certified Betting Expert
Katerina Gadzheva
Katerina has 10+ years of experience in iGaming. She has been a player long before that. Using her skills as a content writer and first-hand knowledge of the online gambling industry, she reviews and compares online casinos for Silentbet.
Co-Author: Anders Bergman
Anders Bergman
Anders Bergman is the founder of QuitGamble.com, an online platform to help people with gambling problems. He is one of Silentbet's contributors. He helps us give the best gamble responsible advice to our readers.