Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling can happen to anyone from any walk of life: Your gambling goes from a fun, innocuous diversion to an unhealthy preoccupation with serious consequences. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino, at the track, or online—if your gambling becomes a problem, it can strain your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster.
You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay debts. It may feel like you can’t stop, but with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life.
What is gambling addiction and problem gambling?
Gambling addiction—also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder. If you’re a compulsive gambler, you can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones. You’ll gamble whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed, and you’ll keep gambling regardless of the consequences—even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.
A gambling addiction or problem is often associated with other behavior or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To overcome your gambling problems, you’ll also need to address these and any other underlying causes as well. The first step is to separate the myths from the facts about gambling problems:
Myths & Facts about Gambling Problems
|Myth: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler.
Fact: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
|Myth: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.
Fact: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
|Myth: Having a gambling problem is just a case of being weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent.
Fact: Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
|Myth: Partners of problem gamblers often drive problem gamblers to gamble.
Fact: Problem gamblers often rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
|Myth: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it.
Fact: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling gambling problems to continue.
Signs and symptoms of problem gambling
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as a “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. You may have a gambling problem if you:
- Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won’t understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.
- Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
- Gamble even when you don’t have the money. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don’t have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money.
- Have family and friends worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they’ve gambled away their inheritance, but it’s never too late to make changes for the better.