Overview, Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Many people enjoy gambling as a hobby; in many cases, actual money doesn’t even have to be involved for someone to enjoy playing an online card game or another type of activity. But, in some situations, gambling can become a compulsive, harmful addiction that affects a person’s professional and personal life.
According to Harvard Medical School, out-of-control gambling is “now recognized as a psychiatric disorder and a challenge for mental health treatment.” This is necessary for those individuals who are addicted to gambling, as it can seem impossible for them to stop on their own and they often need concentrated treatment to recover. There are also distinct signs and symptoms that can help one acknowledge gambling addiction in a friend, family member, or themselves and be able to get the help necessary for this issue.
Gambling Addiction Overview
As stated by the DBHDD, there are two types of gamblers who are experiencing severe issues with their gambling actions. Problem gamblers are the first type and they “fall short of the criteria for pathological gambling,” the second type.
- Problem gamblers
- They take high risks in their gambling
- These risks can have an effect on their personal and professional lives as well as on their “financial security.”
- They may also want to spend more time gambling than doing anything else, causing issues among their loved ones and at work and school.
- They may feel guilty about gambling but they won’t quit.
- They take high risks in their gambling
- Pathological gamblers
- Pathological gamblers “have persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family,social and vocational pursuits.”
- These are the true gambling addicts.
- They will often not be able to think about anything else besides gambling.
Harvard Medical School states, “According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, about 1% of American adults – nearly 3 million people – are pathological gamblers,” or gambling addicts. Individuals who are labeled as problem gamblers are abusing gambling as a hobby and may need help reversing this kind of behavior. Gambling addicts, or pathological gamblers, will need treatment in order to recover, and their recovery can be a long battle with the possibility for relapse, just like those with substance use disorders.
Gambling Addiction Signs
How can you know if someone is actually addicted to gambling? There are distinct signs that point to gambling addiction as opposed to problematic gambling. According to the NLM, some of the signs of gambling addiction are:
- “Committing crimes to get money to gamble”
- Experiencing something akin to withdrawal symptoms when unable to gamble like restlessness, irritability, or depression
- Borrowing large sums of money from multiple people, places, etc. in order to gamble
- “Needing to gamble larger amounts of money in order to feel excitement”
- This is similar to the growing tolerance addicts experience with substance abuse. After a while, the same amount does not cause the same effect, and the person needs to abuse more of the drug.
- Lying to others about where they were or how much time/money they spent gambling
- Ignoring important responsibilities (family, children, work, school, etc.) in order to gamble
- Being unable to stop gambling or saying that they have stopped when they haven’t
- Exhibiting mood swings that hinge on gambling
- According to the DHHS, a gambling addict’s moods “can be like a roller-coaster ride, soaring with wins and plunging with losses.”
- Hiding gambling losses from friends and family members
- In the case of pathological gamblers, they will feel assured that they just need time (and more money) to win their losses back.
- Over time, the person will likely gamble so much that they will “lose track” of those losses and continue to gamble with no concept of how much financial trouble they are in.
If you notice these signs in any of your loved ones, it is important to help them seek treatment as soon as possible. They may become hostile or angry when you bring up the issue of their gambling addiction, so you should try to stay as calm as possible yourself.
Gambling addiction is like every other addiction in that it will cause a person to be unable to stop their harmful behavior, make excuses to continue with it, and likely attempt to ignore any problems it causes.
Gambling Addiction Symptoms
The symptoms of gambling addiction can sometimes be more difficult to assess, especially for someone who does not want to consider that they might have a problem. For anyone who gambles often, it is important to consider the pros and cons that gambling causes in their life and whether or not it could have become a problem or even an addiction.
If you are a frequent gambler, ask yourself the questions below.
- When you are gambling, do you…
- Lose track of time?
- Feel that no amount of winnings are good enough?
- Get extremely upset or angry when you lose?
- Feel unable to stop and cut your losses, even if you know that you have lost a large amount of money?
- Use money that you need for other things in order to gamble more?
- “Gamble to escape worry or trouble” (CRB)?
- “Gamble to pay off other bills?”
- When you are not gambling, do you…
- Only think about being able to gamble again?
- “Feel an urge to gamble again as soon as possible to win back gambling losses” (DHHS)?
- Consider suicide because of your gambling losses?
- Experience insomnia, restlessness, severe depression or other issues because of your inability to gamble?
- Feel guilty for gambling but know that you will continue to do so anyway?
- Have you ever…
- Lost a job, a relationship, or another important aspect of your life as result of gambling?
- Sold something precious to continue gambling?
- Invented reasons to go out and gamble?
- Gambled to solve money problems?
- Lied about your gambling, how bad your losses were, how much time you spent doing it, etc.?
Pathological gamblers are addicts in the strictest sense. They will feel unable to stop gambling, even if they know it causes severe problems in their lives. This kind of behavior makes gambling addiction treatment necessary.