Compulsive Gambling

April 04, 2020

Compulsive Gambling

Humans can become addicted to many different behaviors and gambling is no exception.  Many people are able to gamble recreationally with little to no lasting effects.  However, others find the thrill of gambling addictive and return to it time and again despite incurring great costs in terms of their relationships, financial security and general wellbeing.

What is Gambling?

There are a variety of ways and reasons a person gambles.  While many people do gamble without causing significant problems, some develop problem gambling.  Problem gambling is defined as causing harm to the gambler or someone else, like a family member.  Even though a person may want to stop, the initial behavior leads to the more serious, compulsive gambling.   When someone struggles with compulsive gambling it causes problems in multiple areas of his or her life. 


Bingo, lottery tickets, casino games, online poker, and going to the racetrack are all examples of gambling.  Obviously, not everyone who gambles becomes addicted.  There is no easy formula for determining who develops an addiction to gambling.  Studies have indicated, however, that it is a combination of environmental, genetic, and biological factors. 

Determining a Gambling Problem

How do you know if you have a more serious gambling problem?  The following list of signs indicates the potential for gambling problems:

  • Experiencing a thrill, or rush, from the experience of gambling.
  • Lying about the behavior.
  • Using work and family time to gamble.
  • Feeling guilty about gambling but being unable to stop.
  • Always thinking about the details of gambling.
  • Using gambling to escape feelings of depression.
  • Spending money on gambling instead of bills and needs.
  • Borrowing or stealing money in order to gamble.

Studies have found that between two and four percent of Americans are problem gamblers. Gambling problems, according to some researchers, are more prevalent than alcohol dependence.

Access and Impact

Gambling is more prevalent than ever before because people have constant access to the thrill of the behavior through the Internet.  Beginning to gamble at an early age also increases the risk of developing gambling problems later in life.  Addictions are more common in men and those of lower socioeconomic status.  Like any addiction, compulsive gambling affects other aspects of life.

  • Physical- Poor physical health and excessive drinking and smoking are common results of compulsive gambling.
  • Relational- Family conflict may occur, especially if an individual is lying to others about the behavior and sacrificing family time for gambling. In addition, if outstanding debts are owed, this may cause increasing problems among family and the lenders. 
  • Financial- Bankruptcy and debt are typical end results of compulsive gambling, and the impact of poor financial decisions can take years to amend.
  • Emotional- Symptoms of depression and anxiety are common and may lead the gambler to suicide or other harmful behaviors.
  • Legal- Criminal activity and other illegal tactics are often seen as a “needed” last resort to continue the behavior or to attempt to pay off debt.

Help and Hope

A compulsive gambling addiction does not need to be the last round in the game of life.  There are many professional treatment options as well as support groups like Gamblers Anonymous.  You can also ask your doctor or a mental health professional for support.  Before your first appointment, prepare yourself by considering these questions and steps:

  • Write down your feelings about gambling. What are the triggers that make you want to gamble more?  How have you tried to stop?  How has gambling impacted your life?
  • Make a list of all the current stressors in your life. Be sure to include all that apply (i.e. family, financial challenges, relational problems, work issues, etc.).
  • Consider and write down questions you might have for your doctor. These might be:
    • What professional or treatment program options are most beneficial?
    • What written materials would he or she recommend?
    • What community resources and support groups are available?
  • Plan to talk to your doctor about whether you meet the criteria for a gambling disorder, as indicated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Your doctor or mental health professional might want to rule out other diagnoses before they recommend treatment.  

Freedom from a compulsive gambling addiction is possible and available to you.  Learning and maintaining alternative ways of coping with life will help aid in the recovery process.  To start, you can make a list of all the risks you take when you gamble.  Are the costs to you and your loved ones outweighing the potential benefits?  Those with a compulsive gambling addiction will more than likely answer yes to this question. 

Finally, remind yourself there is no shame in asking for help.  Determination and will power are often not powerful enough to overcome the gambling impulse, and you are not alone in this struggle. Help is available, along with the hope of a better life.  The benefits of taking control over gambling addictions of all levels are exceedingly more valuable than any payout. 


Want to talk to a counselor today about this? 

Call Amplified Life at 800-453-7733 and ask for your “Free 15 Minute Phone Consultation" with one of our licensed counselors. We’ll listen, answer questions you may have, and help you plan next steps.






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