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Problem Gambling 101



Risking something of value on an activity or event in which the outcome is uncertain, in hopes of winning something of value. Examples include slot machines, card games, dice games, sports betting and lottery games. 

Depressed gambler at card table.jpeg

What is Problem GamblinG?

Problem gambling is a severe disorder affecting over 2.6% of the U.S. population. Although many enjoy gambling, it can quickly become an unhealthy obsession with long-lasting repercussions for individuals, families and communities.


Excessive gambling can take a massive toll on your finances, professional and personal relationships, and mental health. You may do things you thought you never could, such as pawning your valuables, lying to your loved ones, spending vital savings or stealing.


Gambling may vary from illicit poker games and trips to the casino to betting on sporting events and horse races. And if you’re a compulsive gambler, you might struggle to control your impulse to gamble on lotteries, casinos, or online. But there are ways to manage this illness with professional help!

Below we discuss problem gambling, its signs and symptoms, and its diagnosis. Later, we share some effective ways to overcome compulsive gambling and lead a healthier life.

A Quick Glance At problem gambling

Problem gambling refers to repeated gambling behavior that disrupts your life or leads to problems for your loved ones. Pathological or compulsive gambling causes a lack of impulse control, meaning you’ll continue to gamble despite its negative consequences.

Individuals with a gambling addiction will gamble whether they’re broke, losing a job, straining relationships, or going into debt.


Moreover, many problem gamblers also struggle with mental disorders like stress, depression, ADHD, and substance abuse.


Types of Problem Gambling

Problem gamblers may fall into three categories based on severity:

  • Mild - Individuals with a mild gambling addiction showcase four to five symptoms.

  • Moderate - People with moderate gambling problems display six and seven signs of gambling addiction.

  • Severe - Problem gamblers with a severe addiction generally have over nine key symptoms.

Different Modes of Gambling

As technology transforms and public policies change, access to gambling activities is increasing among all age groups and gambling is easier than ever before. Typically, professionals divide gambling into three primary categories:

  • Internet Gambling - It refers to gambling conducted via the Internet, such as online sports betting, online casinos, and online bingo. Internet gambling involves real money and losses or wins.

  • Land-Based Gambling - Includes physical venues, including casinos, cruise ships, and more. 

  • Mixed-Mode Gambling - It entails multiple gambling activities, such as online sports betting, physical casinos, lotteries, and racetrack betting.


Research reveals that mixed-mode gamblers  tend to engage in the most gambling activities. 


Here’s the truth: over 2 to 4 million people struggle with problem gambling. However, only one in five people with a gambling addiction seek help. Wondering why? Because most people fail to recognize problem gambling behaviors. 


Ensure you or your loved ones get the help they need by separating the facts from myths:

Myth # 1: I Have to Gamble Daily to Have an Addiction
The fact is that you don’t have to gamble daily to develop a gambling addiction. You become a problem gambler once it disrupts your life, resulting in strained relationships, poor work, or financial losses.


Myth # 2: I Can Afford Gambling, So It’s Not an Issue
Problem gambling isn’t limited to financial issues. Excessive gambling can lead to relationship and legal problems, disrupt your job performance, and worsen your mental health.


Myth # 3: Only Weak-Willed and Irresponsible People Have Gambling Addictions
Gambling addictions can impact people of differing sizes, genders, races, backgrounds, and intelligence levels. So, a previously strong-willed person can also develop a gambling addiction.


Myth # 4: If My Friend Falls into Debt due to Gambling, I Should Help Fix It
Helping a loved one get out of debt may sound like the obvious solution, but bailing them can worsen their addiction. Instead, help them seek professional guidance to combat their gambling problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Problem Gambling

If you believe you or a close family member or friend has a gambling addiction, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Trying to chase losses by gambling more

  • Staying preoccupied with gambling, including planning gambling activities, making bets, or seeking ways to get more money

  • Struggling to control, cut back, and stop gambling without any success

  • Feeling the need to gamble with massive amounts of money to enjoy the thrill of gambling

  • Constant irritability, restlessness, and thoughts of gambling when trying to combat your addiction

  • Using gambling as a way to relieve negative emotions or escape problems

  • Lying to your partner, family members, and friends to hide the severity of your gambling addiction

  • Risking and straining personal and professional relationships, your job, and work opportunities because of excessive gambling

  • Relying on others to bail you out of your financial problems because you gambled away your money

  • Continuing gambling despite losing your money, such as borrowing, selling, or stealing things to get money

Risk Factors for Problem Gambling

Although many people who play poker or the lottery never struggle with a gambling addiction, certain factors increase vulnerability. These include:

How Does Problem Gambling Affect Your Life?

While problem gambling lacks physical symptoms, it can negatively impact the different aspects of your life. Here’s a closer look:

  • Impacts the Quality of Your Life - Excessive gambling can cause money and time losses. You might miss critical life or work events because of your addiction.

  • Affects Your Social Life - People with gambling issues may avoid seeing friends and loved ones. They may spend their time thinking and indulging in gambling activities.

  • Creates Physical and Mental Health Issues - Problem gambling can lead to physical and mental illnesses, causing inactivity, increased drinking, and worsening anxiety.

  • Leads to Financial Problems - Individuals with a gambling issue may spend every dollar on gambling, failing to pay bills and purchase essentials. They might fall into debt and take huge loans.

  • Creates Conflicts at Home - Problem gambling can lead to arguments with partners, family members, and friends about financial and personal difficulties. People with a gambling addiction may try to rationalize their unhealthy habits.

  • Increases the Risk of Criminal Activity - Many people commit crimes, such as stealing, shoplifting, or fraud, to fund their gambling activities.

  • Causes Difficulties at Your Workplace - Gambling at work or missing work opportunities due to gambling can impact your performance and lead to unemployment.

What is the Diagnosis of Problem Gambling?

According to experts, there’s no one cause behind compulsive gambling. Many factors can contribute to an addiction, such as mental health issues, hereditary, or environmental factors.

So, to diagnose problem gambling, individuals must exhibit up to four of the following symptoms:

  • Needing to gamble with more money to feel the “thrill.”

  • Experiencing restlessness and irritability when attempting to control gambling

  • Unsuccessful efforts to control and stop gambling

  • Frequent and repeated thoughts about gambling

  • Using gambling to relieve feelings of depression, distress, and anxiety

  • Lying or being secretive about your gambling habits

  • Risking close relationships, jobs, and professional opportunities because of gambling

  • Asking others to help solve money problems caused by gambling

How to Combat Problem Gambling - Ways to Help Yourself

The first step to combating problem gambling is recognizing you have an addiction. It requires strength to own up to your behavior, particularly if you have hurt relationships or lost money.

But once you realize you have a problem, you can take the following steps to improve your situation:

Learn to Deal with Emotions in Healthier Ways

Ask yourself whether you gamble when bored, stressed, or exhausted. Many people use gambling to relieve unpleasant emotions and socialize.

But numerous healthier and more effective ways to manage negative emotions and mood swings exist. For instance, you can exercise, pick-up new hobbies, spend time with friends, or practice mindfulness.


Limit the Amount of Money Spent on Gambling

Try overcoming gambling by limiting the money you spend on gambling. Ensure you pay essential bills, including food, council tax, childcare costs, and mortgage after getting paid.


In addition, create a weekly limit on how much you can spend on gambling and avoid taking debit/credit cards when you go out. That way, you can’t overspend.


Furthermore, you can use tools and apps to block access to online gambling sites, locations, and apps. You can also set limits on your account to ensure you stick to your budget.


Avoid Seeing Gambling as a Way to Earn

Another excellent way of combating problem gambling is reminding yourself that gambling is not a way to earn. It is never an investment or a realistic channel for making money.


While gambling, prepare yourself for loss and remind yourself that a win is by luck and infrequent. In addition, ensure you don’t pull out money from your savings or investments to fund your gambling activities.


Join a Support Group

Join peer support groups, such as gamblers anonymous, to overcome your gambling habits. The 12-step recovery program helps you find a sponsor with experience staying addiction-free and can offer invaluable guidance.


In addition, your sponsor can support you to ensure you don’t feel isolated during recovery.

Find Alternatives to Gambling

Distract from thinking about gambling by spending time with your partner, family, and friends. Additionally, avoid spaces and people who gamble.

Furthermore, join social groups and clubs that don’t involve gambling to learn a new skill or focus on a hobby you enjoy. Or, you can talk about your feelings and concerns with a friend to avoid “bottling it up.”


Reduce the Time You Spend on Gambling

Create time limits on how often and timings you will gamble in a week. Ensure you’re specific about the days you go; for instance, you can bet only on Tuesdays.


Moreover, resist the temptation to go on a gambling website/app for one game or a quick go. You can also set alarms and alerts on your mobile phone to close the site or return home once you reach your time limit.


Seek Professional Help

Depression, stress, anxiety, and substance abuse can trigger gambling issues and worsen impulse control. So, addressing the underlying problems is crucial to seeking professional help.

What are the Treatment Options for Problem Gambling?

Overcoming a gambling addiction is challenging. So, seeking professional treatment allows you to access the required guidance and support.

But remember that everyone’s experience with addiction is unique, so you’ll need a recovery program that meets your needs and goals. Ensure you discuss different treatment options to identify what suits your situation.


Typically, your doctor will recommend one of the following treatment options:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy -  Medical professionals may recommend CBT to individuals struggling with a gambling addiction to combat unhealthy behaviors, such as stealing, rationalizing, overspending, and false beliefs. Besides, it helps problem gamblers overcome the urge to gamble and solve financial, personal, and professional problems caused by gambling.

  • Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment - These treatment plans are ideal for people with gambling addictions who can’t avoid gambling activities without round-the-clock support.

  • Rehab Programs or Centers - Similar to inpatient/outpatient treatment plans, rehab centers include 24/7 support and guidance to help individuals avoid bad habits.

  • Treatment for Underlying Conditions - Mental health problems and substance abuse can contribute to gambling addiction. So, your doctor or therapist might check whether depression, anxiety, or another mental illness is causing your addiction before providing a treatment plan. The subsequent treatment may include lifestyle changes and medication.

  • Family Therapy or Marriage Counseling - These treatment programs help you solve and improve specific issues caused by excessive gambling. As a result, it enables you to repair strained relationships with your loved ones.

  • Career and Credit Counseling - This can aid in solving financial problems caused by problem gambling, such as borrowing, fraud, and debt.

  • Taking Medications - Your doctor might include a pharmaceutical approach to treatment, such as opioid antagonists or anti-depressants, based on underlying conditions.

Do’s and Don’ts for Partners, Family, and Friends

The best way to help someone overcome their addiction is to support them! Here are several do’s and don’ts for partners and family members of problem gamblers:


The Do’s


These include:

  • Reach out to your loved one about their gambling problems and their repercussions when feeling calm

  • Seek professional support from others in similar situations, such as attending a self-help group for families

  • Explain to your partner the primary reason you’re seeking help isthat the gambling is affecting you

  • Recognize your partner’s good qualities and encourage them to seek the necessary help

  • Talk to your children about your loved one’s gambling problem

  • Realize that overcoming gambling is tricky and requires time, and support your partner during their journey

  • Set boundaries on money management. Take charge of family finances and review bank/credit card statements to monitor their spending behavior

  • Show your loved one you care and are there for me despite setbacks


The Don’ts


Here are several things to avoid:

  • Start preaching, lecturing, or issuing threats

  • Lose your temper while having a conversation about their gambling problems

  • Prevent your loved one from participating in family and social activities

  • Overlook your partner’s positive qualities

  • Expect a smooth and straightforward recovery journey

  • Think all problems will get solved after overcoming gambling, underlying issues can resurface in different ways

  • Bail your friend/family member/partner out of financial problems

  • Encourage their gambling activities in any way

  • Cover up your loved one’s gambling problems from others

How to Start Your Recovery Journey - Taking the First Step

There are numerous ways to access the support and guidance you need to overcome gambling. Here are several resources to help you or a loved one lead a happier and healthier life:

The National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline- It offers problem gamblers confidential and around-the-clock help for people struggling with gambling.

Find Treatment.Gov- Discover confidential and anonymous resources for overcoming problem gambling by accessing Find Treatment’s directory.

BetterHelp Online Therapy Ratings & Reviews- Access licensed and professional online therapists to improve your addictions and solve financial, personal, and professional caused by your addiction.

The Bottom Line

Gambling disorder is a compulsive urge that takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Since it is an uncontrollable behavior, it negatively affects your family and society on the whole. People suffering from problem gambling are often in denial and do not seek medical or professional help in time.

Therefore, you should listen to the worries of your loved ones and start your journey to recovery. The biggest challenge is to stay committed and steer clear of gambling. Unfortunately, the internet has put you at risk and increased the likelihood of relapse.

Apart from therapy, you should look for healthier activities to engage in and avoid temptation. This way, you will be in control of your life and finances.

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