Identifying Gambling Addictions

Gambling is an activity in which a person wagers something of value on a chance event with the intent of winning another item of value. Examples of gambling include sports betting and lotteries.

Like drugs and alcohol, gambling can trigger addictive behaviors in some people. These can range from subclinical symptoms to behaviors that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for pathological gambling.


Generally, gambling involves wagering something of value, such as money, on an event with uncertain outcome. Gambling also occurs when one wagers on activities involving skill such as games of chance, sports betting, or horse racing. The act of gambling has been part of human culture since prerecorded history and is incorporated into many local customs, rituals, and rites of passage.

While some people gamble for entertainment, others do so in order to make a profit. Regardless of the reason, the behavior can become excessive and result in serious negative consequences for individuals, families, and society. Pathological gambling is a behavioral problem classified as an Impulse Control Disorder in current psychiatric manuals.

Individuals with gambling disorders experience a variety of symptoms including: (1) repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop or reduce gambling activity; (2) an overwhelming urge to gamble, even when the consequences are evident; (3) significant losses related to gambling; (4) feelings of agitation or restlessness when trying to cut down on or stop gambling; and (5) lying about how much time or money is spent on gambling.


Gambling is a popular form of entertainment, but can cause serious personal and financial issues. Stress, substance abuse and depression can trigger gambling behaviour, while impulsivity and sensation-seeking can make people more susceptible to it. Addressing these underlying psychological factors is crucial to breaking the addiction.

Problem gambling can also leave people in severe debt, and it’s common for those with a problem to fund their addiction by using credit cards. This can cause people to struggle to pay their bills and can have a negative impact on family and friends.

In addition, some people can become preoccupied with gambling to the extent that it interferes with their home and work life. Symptoms include depression, insomnia and weight loss or gain. In extreme cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.


Identifying a gambling addiction and seeking treatment can be a difficult step. It requires a person to accept they have a problem, which can be especially challenging when he or she has lost money or suffered relationship problems because of the habit.

Like other behavioral addictions, compulsive gambling can also cause psychological symptoms, such as mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings. These symptoms can lead to relapse, and people may experience these feelings even after they have stopped gambling.

Several types of psychotherapy can help someone with a gambling disorder. One popular approach is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps a person change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Medications may also be prescribed to treat co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Managing family finances until the person is better equipped to handle money may also be helpful, including opening bank accounts that require signatures for withdrawals and putting valuables in safe deposit boxes.


If you suspect someone has a gambling addiction, broach the subject with a supportive and concerned attitude. Avoid being deceptive or judgmental, as these types of tactics will make them less likely to open up. Then, suggest a counselor for one-on-one therapy sessions or group counseling. This type of therapy can help people address underlying emotional issues that contribute to self-destructive behavior. It can also teach them how to manage money, repair relationships and find healthy ways to relieve stress.

Medications can also be useful for managing gambling addiction. Some individuals may have a co-occurring mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, and medication can ease their symptoms and help them control their urges. Finally, a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous can help people overcome their gambling addiction by learning how to cope with other ways. They can also find new ways to occupy their time, such as exercising or taking up a hobby.