Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is a more underground issue than most modern-day vices. It is generally defined as an uncontrollable urge to gamble, regardless of potential consequences. However, addiction itself – the impulse to latch on to a specific substance or behaviour as a coping mechanism – is much deeper-rooted. It involves tackling questions such as childhood trauma and underlying medical conditions. It is now easier than ever for individuals to use gambling as a crutch.

What is gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling or pathological gambling, is a behavioural disorder characterised by an inability to control or stop gambling despite negative consequences. It is recognised as a mental health condition and is classified under the category of impulse control disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Identifying signs and symptoms of gambling addiction

Identifying signs and symptoms of gambling addiction can help individuals, their friends, and family members recognise if there is a problem and seek the appropriate help.

Common signs and symptoms of gambling addiction can include:

  • Loss of control: Individuals with a gambling addiction struggle to control their gambling behaviour. They may repeatedly attempt to cut down or stop gambling without success.
  • Preoccupation with gambling: Those affected by gambling addiction often have persistent thoughts about gambling, and the activity occupies a significant amount of their time and mental space.
  • Increasing wagering: A hallmark of gambling addiction is the need to increase the amount of money wagered to achieve the desired excitement or satisfaction. This is known as tolerance.
  • Chasing losses: Individuals may engage in a behaviour known as “chasing losses,” where they continue to gamble in an attempt to recoup previous losses. This can lead to a cycle of increased gambling and mounting financial problems.
  • Negative consequences: Gambling addiction can result in adverse consequences in various aspects of an individual’s life, including financial, social, occupational, and emotional well-being. This may include financial ruin, strained relationships, job loss, and emotional distress.
  • Escape mechanism: Some individuals turn to gambling as a means of escaping from stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. The thrill of gambling provides a temporary distraction from life’s challenges.
  • Deception and concealment: Individuals with a gambling addiction may engage in deceptive behaviours to hide the extent of their gambling activities from family, friends, and colleagues. This can include lying about the amount of time or money spent on gambling.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Although not universally recognised, some individuals report experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cut down or stop gambling. These symptoms may include irritability, restlessness, and increased cravings.

What causes you to have a gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction, like many other addictive behaviours, is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors. It is generally understood to result from a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental influences.
Here are some factors that may contribute to the development of gambling addiction:

Biological factors:

  • Genetics: There is evidence that genetic factors may play a role in the susceptibility to addiction, including gambling addiction. Individuals with a family history of addiction may be at a higher risk.
  • Brain chemistry: Changes in brain chemistry, particularly in the reward and pleasure centres, can contribute to addictive behaviours. Gambling triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reinforcement.
Psychological factors:

  • Mental health conditions: Individuals with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or impulse control disorders, may be more prone to developing gambling addiction.
  • Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and a need for excitement, may contribute to the development of addictive behaviours.
Environmental factors:

  • Early exposure: Being exposed to gambling at an early age, either through family members or the broader environment, may increase the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction.
  • Peer influence: Social influences, including peer pressure and the normalisation of gambling within a social circle, can contribute to the development of addictive behaviours.
Cultural and societal factors:

  • Cultural acceptance: Societal attitudes toward gambling and its acceptability within a particular culture or community can influence an individual’s likelihood of developing a gambling addiction.
  • Accessibility: Easy access to gambling venues, online gambling platforms, or lotteries may increase the risk of developing addictive behaviours.
Stress and coping mechanisms:
  • Stress and trauma: High levels of stress, trauma, or life transitions can lead some individuals to seek coping mechanisms, and for some, gambling may become an outlet for stress relief or avoidance of problems.

It’s important to note that these factors can interact and influence each other. Not everyone exposed to these factors will develop a gambling addiction, and the presence of one or more risk factors does not guarantee the development of the disorder. Additionally, the severity and progression of gambling addiction can vary from person to person.

The stages of gambling addiction

While recognising the uniqueness of each addiction case, experts commonly categorise the evolution of gambling addiction into stages:

1. Winning early on

Initial successes, especially significant wins, create a sense of triumph and skill. The gambler becomes increasingly focused on betting, potentially neglecting other activities, and may escalate the amounts wagered.

2. Losing

Subsequent losses trigger a shift in focus from exhilaration to the compulsion to recover losses. The pleasure derived from winning diminishes, replaced by the compulsive need to gamble, altering brain chemistry and impacting relationships, work, and finances.

3. Desperation

Gambling becomes the central aspect of the gambler’s life, causing extensive damage to life prospects, relationships, and overall well-being. The individual may continue gambling even with borrowed money, engage in criminal activities to fund the habit and face the risk of complete poverty. Suicidal ideation or attempts may occur in response to perceived hopelessness.

Types of gambling

There are various types of gambling activities, ranging from traditional casino games to newer forms facilitated by technology.

Some examples of gambling can include:

Casino Gambling:

    • This includes games like blackjack, poker, roulette, slot machines, and other games offered in traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

Online Gambling:

    • Gambling conducted over the internet, such as online casinos, poker rooms, sports betting websites, and virtual slot machines.

Sports Betting:

    • Placing wagers on the outcome of sporting events. This can be done through bookmakers, online platforms, or in-person at sportsbooks.


    • Purchasing tickets with the chance to win a prize based on a random drawing. Lotteries can include national, state, or local draws.


    • A game of chance where players mark off numbers on a card as they are randomly drawn, aiming to achieve a specific pattern.


    • A card game that combines skill and luck played in various forms such as Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Seven Card Stud.

Horse Racing and Greyhound Racing:

    • Placing bets on the outcome of horse or greyhound races, either at the track or through off-track betting facilities.

Electronic Gaming Machines:

    • This includes video poker machines, slot machines, and other electronic gaming devices found in casinos and other gambling establishments.

Social Gambling:

    • Informal or non-commercial gambling activities that typically occur among friends or family, such as poker nights or friendly bets.

Mobile Gambling:

    • Placing bets or playing casino games using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Skill-Based Gaming:

    • Games where the outcome is influenced by the player’s skill, such as certain types of poker or daily fantasy sports.

Scratch Cards:

    • Cards with concealed areas that, when scratched, reveal whether the cardholder has won a prize.

It’s important to note that while some forms of gambling involve skill, chance always plays a role. Gambling can be recreational for many people, but it can become problematic for others, leading to issues like addiction. Responsible gambling practices include setting limits, being aware of the risks, and seeking help if gambling becomes a concern.

Short-term and long-term consequences of gambling

Gambling, when not done responsibly, can lead to both short-term and long-term consequences. It’s essential to recognise the potential risks associated with gambling:

Short-term consequences:

Financial losses:

      • Immediate loss of money due to unsuccessful gambling sessions can lead to financial strain.

Emotional distress:

      • Feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, or frustration following a period of unsuccessful or excessive gambling.

Relationship strain:

      • Interpersonal conflicts with family, friends, or colleagues due to neglect, lies, or financial issues arising from gambling.

Work or academic issues:

      • Neglecting responsibilities at work or school due to preoccupation with gambling leads to potential job loss or academic problems.

Legal troubles:

      • In some cases, engaging in illegal or risky activities to fund gambling may result in legal consequences.

Borrowing and debt:

      • Rapid debt accumulation through borrowing money or taking out loans to cover gambling losses.
Long-term consequences:

  • Chronic financial problems:
      • Persistent and escalating financial difficulties, including debt, bankruptcy, and the erosion of savings and assets.
  • Mental health issues:
      • Increased risk of developing or exacerbating mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
  • Social isolation:
      • Withdrawal from social activities and isolation due to the shame or embarrassment associated with gambling problems.
  • Family breakdown:
      • Relationship deterioration leads to separation, divorce, or strained family dynamics.
  • Employment and career impact:
      • Continued neglect of work responsibilities may lead to unemployment, career setbacks, or difficulty securing employment.
  • Legal consequences:
      • Ongoing legal issues arising from criminal activities or financial misconduct related to gambling.
  • Health problems:
      • Stress-related health issues, including cardiovascular problems, insomnia, and other physical ailments.
  • Compulsive behaviour:
      • Development of compulsive gambling behaviour, leading to an increasing inability to control or stop gambling.
  • Loss of assets:
      • Selling possessions, property, or other assets to fund gambling or cover debts.
  • Treatment challenges:
      • Increased difficulty in overcoming addiction with prolonged gambling, making treatment and recovery more challenging.

It’s important for individuals experiencing difficulties with gambling to seek help early on to minimise the potential long-term consequences. Treatment can be extremely effective in addressing gambling-related issues and promoting recovery.

Treatment for gambling addiction

Treatment for gambling addiction typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches, support groups, and, in some cases, medications. Here are common elements of treatment for gambling addiction:

  • Counselling and therapy:

Being able to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours associated with gambling is crucial for developing healthier coping mechanisms and addressing underlying issues; the use of various therapy options does this. Examples of therapies used within rehab centres are cognitive-behavioural therapy, family therapy and motivational enhancement therapy.

  • Support Groups:

Participation in support groups like Gamblers Anonymous (GA) provides individuals with a platform to share experiences, receive support, and work towards recovery alongside others facing similar challenges.

  • Financial counselling:

Seeking assistance from financial counsellors can help individuals manage debt, create budgets, and develop financial planning strategies to address the consequences of gambling-related financial issues.

  • Medications:

Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and opioid antagonists like naltrexone, may be prescribed to address co-occurring mental health issues or help reduce cravings in some cases.

  • Self-exclusion programmes:

Individuals can voluntarily exclude themselves from casinos or online gambling platforms to limit access to gambling environments.

  • Inpatient or outpatient treatment programmes:

In severe cases, individuals may benefit from residential or inpatient treatment programs that offer a structured environment for recovery. Outpatient programs provide more flexibility for those who can manage treatment while maintaining daily responsibilities.

  • Life skills training:

Learning or redeveloping practical life skills, such as time management, stress management, and problem-solving, can be crucial for individuals in recovery.

  • Relapse prevention:

Developing strategies to recognize and cope with triggers, stressors, and cravings is essential for preventing relapse. This may include ongoing therapy and support group participation.

  • Gambling harm minimisation strategies:

Education about responsible gambling practices and harm minimization strategies can help individuals make informed decisions about their gambling behaviours.

The next step

If you find yourself relating to any of the signs and symptoms discussed in this guide, it’s crucial to recognise that help is available. Seeking assistance from a healthcare professional, counsellor, or support group can be the first step toward regaining control and building a path to recovery.

Remember, you don’t have to face this challenge alone. With the right support and treatment, individuals struggling with gambling addiction can overcome obstacles, address underlying issues, and work towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. Reach out to healthcare professionals who specialise in addiction or mental health to start your journey towards healing and positive change. Your well-being is important; seeking help is a courageous and vital decision.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.