Understanding gambling addiction

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

Understanding gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is a huge problem in our society and one that is rising around the world. In fact, a survey published in 2013 revealed that nearly six million people in America had a gambling disorder that warranted some form of treatment.

Also known as compulsive gambling, gambling disorder, or pathological gambling, it is classified by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as an addictive disorder. People with gambling addiction have many similarities with the traits of alcoholics and drug addicts.

This behavioral addiction fits one definition of addiction that is widely used by mental health experts. That is, it is something that someone cannot stop and stay stopped from that is detrimental to themselves and/or those around them.

Powerless over gambling

Powerless over gambling

A compulsive gambling addict cannot seem to control their impulse to gamble. This is whether they are winning, losing, wealthy or poor.

In terms of it being an addiction, it doesn’t matter whether someone can afford it or not. It’s about the powerlessness they seem to have over the behavior – despite negative consequences to themselves and others.

Thoughts and compulsion to gamble dominate them. They are never present in the moment unless they are gambling because otherwise they are constantly thinking about gambling. It can negatively impact everything they do in life – from work to family time to playing sports and doing hobbies as well as socializing too. It often badly affects sleeping and physical health due to not taking care of themselves, including not eating well.

Gambling and sport

Gambling and sport

There is comorbidity with alcohol and drug problems. Many gambling addicts are also more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression – including thinking about or attempting suicide.

Many gamblers with problems also suffer from bipolar disorder or unmanaged attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Significant links have also been found between problem gambling and daily tobacco use, as well as problematic shopping and addictive gaming.

Gambling addicts come from all backgrounds and all professions. But men are around seven times more likely than women to have a problem with gambling.

This is put down to the fact that gambling is often connected with sports, which men overall show more of an interest in. But some mental health experts also think it is likely because men are in general more hedonistic in nature and likely to take risks than women.

Other factors that can play a part in someone developing a gambling problem are:

  • Trauma.
  • Having other addictions.
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Feeling isolated and lonely.
  • Being unemployed or retired.


As with other addictions, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can be behind gambling addiction. In this way, gambling can act as an all-consuming distraction (regarding the planning, doing, and aftermath) from the overwhelming pain of this.

Then there is the chase for the high – the “feel-good” chemical dopamine and “happiness hormone” endorphin are both released during gambling. But this high is always short-lived – and so the compulsion to gamble will start up again soon afterward.

How do I know if I have a gambling problem?

How do I know if I have a gambling problem

According to Gamblers Anonymous, founded in 1957 and now with meetings around the world that follow the Twelve Steps recovery program, answering these 20 questions can give a strong indication of a problem with gambling or not. The more someone answers “yes”, the greater the problem they are likely to have.

  1. Do you lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Is gambling making your home life unhappy?
  3. Is gambling affecting your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Do you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Does gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win, do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Do you often gamble until your last dollar is gone?
  10. Do you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Are you reluctant to use gambling money for normal expenditures?
  13. Does gambling make you careless of the welfare of your family?
  14. Do you gamble longer than you planned?
  15. Do you ever gamble to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Does gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create an urge within you to gamble?
  19. Do you have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self-destruction as a result of your gambling?

Is there a solution for gambling addiction?

Is there a solution for gambling addiction

Gambling can be successfully treated in the same manner as other addictions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown positive results for many people.

Benefits of recovery from gambling addiction include getting your life back on track and your finances in order. If left untreated though, as with all addictions, it is a progressive illness that will most likely get worse.

We carefully listen in complete confidence to everyone who chooses to be our guest at Tikvah Lake, in our wonderfully peaceful environment including our beautiful tranquil lake. We offer a personalized treatment program to work for the swiftest and most enduring recovery.

Our friendly experienced team has treated people with all types of mental health problems. Contact us to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you care about – starting today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment