Responsible Gambling

All About Problem Gambling

You’re reading this because you enjoy gambling – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Gambling is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.

For most of these people, it will always mean a hobby never becoming anything more than that.

But what about those people who discover they’ve developed an uncontrollable gambling habit? Or addiction?

Gambling can very easily slip from being a bit of harmless fun, to creating serious, financial and personal issues.

What is Gambling Addiction?

It’s actually a form of mental health issue. Amazingly, it’s not dissimilar to other mental health issues and addictions, even sharing traits in common with chemical drug addiction, as well as other impulse-control issues, like kleptomania or pyromania.

Just as with any addiction, it becomes very difficult for the person experiencing the issue to control and curb their behaviour, even when they can see it’s hurting their families, friends and themselves. While not everyone with a gambling addiction will experience the same types or intensities of symptoms, you might find that thee include:

A Compulsive Need to Gamble

This means, plain and simple, when someone is unable to stop themselves from wanting to gamble. This type of symptom can express itself in different ways:

  • Continuing to play, whether you win or lose, and not being able to stop in case of either situation
  • Knowing you can’t afford to lose, yet still seeking ways to make bets, despite this
  • Pathological gambling – some addicts may be unaware they have an issue.

Binge Gambling

Just like with binge-eating, this is when someone displays compulsive gambling symptoms as above, although only during specific time periods or over bursts of time.

  • You might find binge gamblers seem to be in control of their gambling issue, for most of the time
  • It could be weeks or months or any other amount of time before the binge gambler shows any symptoms of gambling addiction
  • Even though it might only be on rare occasions, a binge gambler displays compulsive gambling behaviours when they start betting.

Problem Gambling

This is the term describing when someone isn’t a compulsive gambler, however their gambling habits are still entirely under control.

  • Problem gamblers will display gambling behaviours which may be disturbing their daily life
  • These behaviours include chasing losses, or even lying to family and friends about their actual behaviours
  • Problem gamblers may realise themselves they have a problem, such as finding themselves becoming more compulsive over time, or that they are gambling more often than usual and feeling differently towards that gambling session.

How To Tell Gambling Addictions in Adults: Signs to Look Out For

Man entering his payment details on phone
Gambling Addiction © 2020

The American Psychiatric Association in 2018 diagnosed compulsive disorder as including at least four of the symptoms below being present in a person within the past year.

A quick note on this, if the gambling addict has a separate mental health issue, the below pointers should be considered a sign of a joint addiction:

  • Using bigger amounts of money to get to the same level of excitement while gambling.
  • Becoming restless, irritable, or otherwise noticeably negative when they tried to cut back on the gambling, rather than stop altogether
  • Being repeatedly unsuccessful in cutting back, controlling, or stopping their gambling experiences altogether
  • Constantly thinking about gambling experiences – including past gambling experiences with a positive or negative, planning the next gambling session, coming up with methods to raise money to gamble more often
  • Gambling during negative episodes, including gambling while depressed, anxious, feeling guilty, or during helpless moments
  • Chasing losses – or finding ways, however significant, continuing to gamble in order to break even.
  • Lying to loved ones to hide any losses or financial damages, or other negative impacts caused by gambling
  • Having significant impact on their social life including losing relationships, jobs, career opportunities and more, due to their gambling behaviour
  • Relying on other people for money due to financial issues as a cause of gambling behaviour


It’s important to note that this list alone is not an exhaustive way to tell if you or someone you know has a gambling addiction. Only a mental health professional such as a therapist, a psychiatrist, or otherwise will be able to accurately diagnose a gambling addiction.

A professional is a key person to consult in order to diagnose and exclude any other potential mental health condition that may be causing these behaviours, instead of gambling addiction.

Unfortunately, this is because gambling addicts are usually most acceptable to other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Otherwise, a trained medical professional will make an accurate diagnosis from an entire evaluation, both physical and mental, to double-check and rule out any other medical condition causing these behaviours.

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

While nobody knows for certain regarding the exact cause, and many people think there isn’t one exact cause, there are many different factors that can contribute to causing a gambling addiction.

As with most mental disorders, there are links between hereditary behaviours, but gambling addicts are never exactly like one another. You should also take into account any mental health conditions the gambling addict might have, such as substance abuse, depression or otherwise, as well as the age the person began gambling. There’s a lot to uncover about their first gambling interactions and experiences, such as a huge first win.

Biological factors

Problem gambling is often biological at its root, as can be seen from other similar, compulsive addictions.

Brain imaging has proven that’s gambling wins produce a similar neurological response to cocaine addicts getting hit by their drug of choice.

The imaging also shows that deficiencies in the chemical link to stress and dangerous situations, norepinephrine, is present in problem gambles, as is the chemical linked to happiness and well-being, serotonin. Unfortunately, some problem gamblers are genetically predisposed to developing impulse control issues or other addictive disorders, simply due to their genetics.

Psychological factors

Psychology is another key factor in developing gambling addictions. This can be from a way that someone thinks about gambling, and is sometimes what causes the difference between being a high risk for developing a gambling issue, and actually developing a gambling issue. What’s known as the ‘Gambler’s fallacy’ can provide some rationalisations for compulsive gambling behaviour.

The ‘Gambler’s fallacy’ is the idea that independent events are connected by a series, and this series also affects the odds of future independent events.

For instance, if a coin is flipped 5 times, landing on heads each of those 5 times, the next flip’s odds that it ends up with the tails remains at 50%. However, the gambler’s fallacy leads the person to believe that, that same coin will land on tails for the next few flips, as a way of correcting the previous heads-heavy results. This is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, allowing compulsive gamblers to begin chasing losses, in the belief that their luck will surely change for the better soon, to make up for their losses.

Social factors

Outside sources can also manipulate these gambling behaviours. Stress, other emotional difficulties in a person’s professional or personal life can trigger unwanted gambling behaviour.

Someone’s playing environment can also encourage problematic behaviours. For example, gambling dependency and problematic behaviours can be exacerbated during social isolation, or times when you aren’t able to leave your house.


If someone has a pre-existing addiction to alcohol drugs or otherwise, they are more at risk of developing a gambling problem.

Recognising You Have a Gambling Problem

Whether you already are aware that you may have a gambling problem, if you feel you’re losing your ability to gamble safely, or you’ve noticed friends and family telling you have a problem, it’s time to seek help.

Just as with other addictions, it may seem that the signs of gambling issues are obvious to other people, but it is actually pretty common for gamblers and those in their surroundings, to completely miss issues at first. This is possibly due to the gambler’s nuanced or secretive behaviours, and that other issues surrounding problematic gambling can easily be rationalised, or hidden by the person with the gambling issue.

The definition of problem gambling and gambling addiction in general differs between different organisations, however most professionals all agree on the same basic problematic gambling symptoms.

The American Association of Psychiatry has a range of basic self-help strategies for people with gambling issues, to help with any cravings they might feel should they have a gambling problem.

These include:

  • Confide in a friend, or get support by attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting
  • Find other activities that you enjoy doing and use these to distract yourself from wanting to gamble.
  • You should still pay attention to avoiding isolation and find healthy ways to socialise
  • Wait a while, until the urge to gamble passes.
  • Think ahead to what will happen after the gambling session, and the way it makes you feel. Focus on any negative feelings you felt in the past, to prevent yourself from gambling in the present.

How to Get Treatment and Stop a Gambling Addiction

There are several ways for compulsive gamblers to seek treatment, but there’s no single treatment which is standard for treating gambling addiction.

Therapy and counseling

Psychotherapy has a very high success rate for treating gambling issues. Counsellors can improve problem gambling behaviours, with most individuals who develop gambling addictions often having an underlying other psychiatric issue. That means, a psychologist or psychiatrist can help with related mental health issues, as well as treating the gambling addiction.

Medical treatment

There are no specific medications exclusive for treating gambling addiction, although some have proven useful in combating urges to gamble, or the feelings of mania inspired by betting. These medications include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, medications used to treat other addictions, as well as some SSRIs.

How Common is Gambling Addiction?

No one knows the exact percentage of problem gamblers. Most diagnosis comes from self-reporting. In the USA, problem gambling rates tend to be in the range of 2 to 3%.,a and is higher in areas where gambling is a huge part of the culture, such as Nevada. All the studies have found that gambling addiction seems to occur more often in men than women.

The Negative Effects of Gambling

Not all of the negative effects of gambling are obvious:


It goes without saying that constant gambling can cause financial issues. This includes debt and more passive losses, such as the loss of a home, a job or even bankruptcy. These financial issues can lead to other issues, often legal in nature, with some gamblers looking to steal and find other ways to make money to use for gambling.

Mental Health

Gambling addiction and issues can cause untold mental health issues. This can cause problems in significant relationships, and even have negative effects on someone’s career or education. Compulsive gambling a problematic gambling behaviours can lead to depression, and even suicide.


Problem gambling affects those closest to the gambler. This can include families, inspiring domestic violence, as well as having the gambler pass on any addictive behaviours to children, as well as developing depression, substance abuse, or other problematic behaviours.

Myth: Gambling only becomes a problem when someone can't afford their losses.

Fact: Financial issues aren’t the only thing that causes a problem gambler. It can also be an emotional issue, jeopardising someone’s employment and relationships.

Myth: People who don't gamble very often can't be problem gamblers.

Fact: In irregular gamblers, you might not see the compulsive behaviour that often, but if the times they do gamble fits in with compulsive gambling habits listed above, they may still have a problem.

Myth: Responsible people don't develop gambling problems.

Fact: Anyone can develop an addiction, and it’s nothing to do with their responsibility as a person. Even if someone acts irresponsibly, it might not make them an irresponsible person in life. Gambling addiction is a disorder that leads to loss of control and can affect anyone.

Myth: Children and young people aren't affected by problem gambling.

Fact: This is this age bracket that are spending more on gambling in the past few years (probably due to the rise of my mobile gaming), but they can also be affected by a close family member’s compulsive gambling behaviour, which could even lead to problematic gambling for them in later life.

Myth: You can help a compulsive gambler by paying off any debts and helping them with other financial issues.

Fact: This is actually counterproductive. It doesn’t solve the problem comer and actually makes the gambler feel that they have a backup in case and when they find themselves needing money again. When they find themselves needing money again, it could even cause them to place more bets.

Helping Someone With a Gambling Addiction

Group therapy session for gambling addiction
Gambling Addiction © 2020

You might miss the initial signs of compulsive gambling in loved ones, however there are several things to look out for:

  • Your loved one is lying about their gambling behaviour
  • They are letting your relationship or other relationships deteriorate just that they can gamble more
  • They might start suggesting, or even say out loud, they have a gambling issue
  • They started borrowing money, or selling items
  • They are spending more time gambling than before
  • They spend money gambling despite having unpaid bills or go without other necessities such as food or heat

If your loved ones start displaying these kinds of issues, it might be time to start taking them seriously. They could be looking for help, but don’t understand the full extent of the issue. It’s important that you do not seem judgemental, or threatening towards the person with the gambling issue.

Loved ones of the person with compulsive gambling habits should try to educate themselves, so that they may be supportive, and not act in a way that would enable the gambler to either continue gambling or avoid treatment.

For example, you should never offer to pay off their gambling debts as this is enabling, but you could help them to find financial counselling, as well as other services, such as therapy, to help them deal with their behaviour.

Helping someone find treatment options

You could help someone to seek treatment for their gambling behaviour, and you could let them know how the gambling has affected their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones.

You could stage an intervention, where close friends and family discuss the compulsive gambler’s effect on their lives. This in itself won’t change any compulsive habits, but could be a good start in the journey towards helping change the behaviour in the long term. You should never speak in a confrontational or heated tone, and should always seek a professional to help someone with a gambling problem.

Compulsive gambler suicide

There is a high rate of compulsive gambler suicide. If you or someone you love feel suicidal and you’re based in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention. You can also visit the Befrienders Worldwide to find a suicidal support network in your own country of residence.

Resources for Gambling Addictions

There are so many resources available for those looking to help gambling addicts. Not every type of treatment works for each person and sometimes you might have to try a few things before you find something that works.

There are group meetings available, advanced therapy professionals, and more options beyond these: help is always available.

Here’s a range of resources to help you fight gambling addiction.

Gamblers Anonymous logo
Gamblers Anonymous – (
National Council of Problem Gambling
The National Council on Problem Gambling (
National Problem Gambling Helpline Network logo
National Problem Gambling Helpline Network (800-522-4700)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration logo
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  (

Worldwide Gambling Addiction Help

  • Argentina – Juego Responsable – 0800-333-0333, WhatsApp 011-1524416058
  • België – VAD – 02 423 03 33
  • Brasil – Jogadores Anônimos – (11) 3229-1023
  • Canada – ProblemGambling – 1-866-531-2600
  • Chile – Psicologos Ludopatia Chile – 9 222 3860
  • Deutschland – Spielen mit Verantwortung: Glücksspielsucht – 0800-1 37 27 00
  • España – FEJAR – 900 200 225
  • France – IFAC – + 33 (0)2 40 84 76 20
  • Italia – TONGA – 800 55 88 22
  • Nederland – AGOG – 0900-2177721 (€ 0.10 per minute)
  • Norge – Hjelpelinjen – 800 800 40
  • Österreich – Spielsuchthilfe – (1) 544 13 57
  • Portugal – Jogo Responsável – 213 950 911 (SICAD – Serviço de Intervenção nos Comportamentos Aditivos e nas Dependências)
  • Schweiz – Sucht Schweiz – 021 321 29 11
  • Sverige – Stödlinjen – 020-819 100 (09:00 to 21:00)

References and Sources

CSNO’s Commitment to Helping Players

We always promote responsible gambling, but this advice should never be used instead of seeking professional help should you develop a gambling problem.