How to Identify Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a complicated mental health disorder that may co-occur with other disorders such as alcohol addiction or drug abuse. According to the Mayo Clinic, compulsive gambling can on rare occasions become an immediate problem for people when they first gamble, but in the vast majority of cases it is developed over time. Therefore, a person may be a social gambler for an extended period of time before he or she begins gambling compulsively.

In time, compulsive gamblers fall into a destructive pattern of placing increasingly large bets, which can strain relationships, ruin one’s professional life or cause a person to resort to illegally obtaining money to gamble. While there are several risk factors associated with this condition, perhaps the most notable is that compulsive gamblers often suffer from depression or abuse alcohol. In such cases, the disorders can exacerbate one another, and hence should both be addressed concurrently.

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Defining gambling addiction 

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, about 1 percent of the U.S. adult population struggles with pathological gambling, and several million more exhibit symptoms of problem gambling. In general, gambling addiction can affect anyone; however, the National Institutes of Health note that pathological gambling for men usually begins in adolescence, whereas with women this usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. Moreover, the Mayo Clinic states that age, sex, family influence and certain personality traits are all factors that may increase a person’s risk of compulsive gambling.

For most people, a weekly game of poker or trip to the casino remains a fun pastime, but for compulsive gamblers it may increasingly become a need. Often, those struggling with gambling addiction will try to conceal or brush off their problem in order to make it seem less severe. Compulsive gamblers often exhibit the following symptoms:

  • A constant preoccupation with gambling
  • Borrow, steal or commit crimes in order to get money to gamble
  • Gamble increasingly large amounts of money
  • Gamble money they cannot afford to lose
  • Noticeably have withdrawals from gambling
  • Gamble to attempt to escape other problems
  • Regularly talk about experiences gambling or the urge to gamble
  • Continue gambling even if it is damaging relationships, work performance, etc.

If a loved one meets several of these criteria, it’s important that he or she receive a psychiatric evaluation to diagnose compulsive gambling. If this condition is confirmed, possibly along with other disorders, the NIH recommends treatment methods ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. When gambling addiction co-occurs with alcohol or substance abuse, more comprehensive treatment, such as a stay at a robust rehabilitation center, will be most beneficial. This is important to consider because studies suggest that the vast majority of compulsive gamblers have co-occurring disorders.

Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, compulsive gambling requires ongoing therapy from support groups, as well as support from friends and family. Those struggling with gambling addiction should avoid environments where gambling takes place and seek professional treatment.