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Gambling Addiction: Causes, Signs, Symptoms And Effects

gambling addiction symptoms

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Table of Contents

What Gambling Addiction Is

Currently, Gambling addiction is a serious brain disease. It can affect how a person develops a fetish for various forms of gambling. In some cases, it is inseparable and often dangerous. Unfortunately, the addicts put gambling activities at the top of their priority list. They think about it all the time and fantasize what the next move will bring for them.
Such preoccupation may lead to catastrophic results. Understandably, this puts an enormous strain on many parts of their life. For example, their job, school performance, money status, and relationships.

Online Gambling Addiction

These days, online gambling is a new emerging form of addiction. Tragically, it has taken the lives of many individuals. Of course, this is particularly a dreadful situation. It is especially considering perennial access to the internet these days. To make things worse, a person does not have to leave a couch to start trying luck. Various websites provide such facilities and lure people into the abyss.
Synonyms: Compulsive or Pathological Gambling, Gambling Disorder.

Gambling Addiction Signs

Some gambling addiction signs are very much like other types of addiction. On the other hand, most of them are very specific:

  • Keeping it a secret
  • Money issues
  • Inability to stop—The person who is a gambler is aware that their behavior is bad. However, they are unable to stop by themselves
  • Irritability caused by family and friend when they express their concerns
  • Anxiety when not gambling
  • Depression
  • Suicide thoughts and attempts
  • Insomnia caused by depression
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems at work
  • Keep thinking about how to get money
  • Compulsive thoughts and behavior related to gambling
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not gambling: irritation, nervousness, depression
  • Guilt
  • Engaging in criminal activities
  • Distancing from friends
  • Borrowing money
  • Chasing losses, keep trying to win back the money they lost
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Causes of Gambling Addiction

Some of the reasons why people gamble are:

  • To get that adrenaline rush that comes with taking extreme risks.
  • As a means of socializing with other people or just for the fun of it.
  • For the challenge: some people enjoy being tasked with the objective of beating the house or to display their skill.
  • As a means of escape from the drudgery of life or loneliness.
  • To address specific financial problems. Sometimes, gambling seems like the last resort to tackle pressing financial issues.

Most individuals with a gambling addiction are young and middle-aged men. Often, gambling addiction starts with financial problems. The person struggling with money problems sees gambling as an opportunity. As a result, they think this will solve their financial problems.
Another cause of this terrible condition is the search for excitement. One gets this sensation of high, very much like taking drugs. Also, being a successful gambler brings its perks, such as social status and wealth.
At the same time, there might be other factors that can trigger gambling addiction. It might be mental health problems like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and ADHD.
Personality traits may also be the cause of addiction. For example, some people are in constant search for excitement and thrill.

Recognizing The Signs Of Gambling Addiction

Unlike the other forms of addiction, it does not produce an immediate physical sign. For this reason, early detection may not be an easy task for their friends and family members. Recognizing it at an early stage takes a lot of effort. Watch for the following signs in the loved ones.

  • Loss of a large amount of money that cannot be related to a specific situation.
  • Asking for monetary help time and again.
  • Previous or current diagnosis of other mental disorders. For example, anxiety and depression. In addition, a known history of a suicide attempt without an obvious cause. Therefore, this could be a strong indicator of the gambling problems.
  • Recent money problems, strained relations, and sliding performance at college or office.
  • Involvement in theft or other criminal activities to fund their gambling activities. In fact, it may result in a legal charge against them.
  • Providing illogical reasons for their increasing need for money. Some may lie or attempt to hide their activities.

If the signs mentioned above are noticed, talk to them in a friendly manner. This way, one will be able to build a trustworthy environment where they may open up about their problems.

Is One Addicted To Gambling?

Gambling addiction is not just a single monolithic condition. There are many ranges of the spectrum. However, for someone to be said to be addicted to gambling, they must exhibit some certain traits, characteristics, and signs of gambling addiction. New members of Gambling Anonymous sessions are usually asked a series of 20 questions, and those that answer yes to 7 or more of these questions are generally considered to be gambling addicts or to have a gambling problem.
These questions take the form of the following:

  • Does stress trigger the urge to gamble?
  • Has gambling affected drive and aspirations?
  • Has gambling affected personal life negatively?
  • Has gambling ever affected wellbeing or that of dependents?
  • Has one’s reputation been damaged as a result of gambling?
  • Has one ever been tempted to steal or do something illegal to finance gambling?
  • Has one ever borrowed money to gamble?
  • Has one ever felt like gambling is a good way to celebrate?
  • Has one ever felt remorseful after gambling?
  • Has one ever gambled and lost to the point one had nothing to bet with anymore?
  • Has one ever gambled as a sort of escape mechanism from the mundane life?
  • Has one ever gambled for longer than initially planned?
  • Has one ever gambled to win money to pay the bills or debts?
  • Has one ever gambled while supposed to be at work?
  • Has one ever lost sleep due to gambling?
  • Has one ever set aside some money as money for gambling?
  • Has one ever sold the belongings to gamble?
  • Has one ever thought about the financial ruin the gambling may cause?
  • When one loses, do they feel compelled to gamble again to win the losses back?
  • When one wins, do they know when to quit or they keep gambling till lose again?

Effects Of Gambling Addiction

gambling addictionThe effects of gambling addiction may range anywhere from a loss of money to suicide. Besides, they may ruin almost every aspect of life. For example, relationships, academic or office performance, self-image, self-esteem, behavior, and social responsibilities. Typically, the effects during the withdrawal period include certain conditions. They include strong urges, restlessness, and worsening of pre-existing mental disorders.

Suicide: For a few addicts, suicide may be the only way out. That way, they set themselves away from mounting loans and debts. In other cases, they may take such self-destructive step due to depression or a fear of legal charges.

Gambling addiction occurs in three phases

  • The winning phase – continuing to gamble after winning because of the perception of a winning streak
  • The losing phase – continuing to gamble after losing to earn back the money
  • The desperation phase – taking irrational risks in hope for a big win that will offset all previous losses

In the winning phase, the gamblers usually win big and then start to have a skewed perception of their chances which emboldens them to continue gambling. This phase is exploited by gambling organizations as they often offer new gamblers very enticing odds of winning just to get them hooked.

In the losing phase, the gamblers start to lose money and lose so much that previous winnings along with other funds get depleted. The gamblers, however, continue to gamble, believing they will recapture the initial lucky break that won them so much at the beginning. However, this never happens except occasionally, and the gambler invariably goes back to losing.

The last phase, the desperation phase, is where time seems to be running out and the gamblers begins to take even more irrational risks hoping for a big win that will offset all the losses incurred thus far. By this time, the gamblers would have dragged people that are close to them into their vortex of financial loss, and finally, the gambler hits rock bottom.

Dealing With Gambling Addiction Problem

Addiction and habit are different. In fact, addiction is a dangerous disease. It needs treatment just like any other disease. One can expect a full recovery with the right treatment.
Moreover, using the following tips may help to make an early diagnosis of the problem:

  • Give attention to the pattern, frequency, and progression of the typical signs. That way, one may be able to separate addiction from a lack of self-control. Also, it may point out certain problems with impulsive actions.
  • Talk to them in a friendly manner so that they do not feel offended.
  • Once a person confirms the problem, take them for a professional consultation. Then, addiction experts can suggest the way ahead.
  • In the meantime, ask them to stay away from other friends with the same problem. Help them follow a healthy routine. It may include some exercise sessions, a balanced diet, and quality sleep.
  • Stay close to them, listen to their problems, and comfort them. Meanwhile, tell them the success stories of other problems who are clean now.

Gambling Addiction Treatment Options

Gambling addiction treatment can take place via five approaches:


It may be beneficial to opt for behavior- or cognitive behavioral therapy. Behavior therapy makes use of systemic exposure. This is to the behavior that needs to go away. Meanwhile, they teach the addict the necessary skills to control the urge to gamble.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy identifies unhealthy, illogical, and damaging beliefs. At the same time, they replace it with healthy and positive philosophies.

It is also advisable for the family to go for therapy, for help to deal with broken-down relationships.


Believe it or not, medication can help with a gambling problem. Medications, such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help. For example, it can be problems rooted deeper than gambling. There may be others which go along with it, such as depression.

Usually, they use medications traditionally for treating substance abuse. As a result, narcotic antagonists may assist in treating gambling addiction.

Support groups

Usually, when treating any addiction, they will prescribe group therapy. This for recovering addicts to share their experiences. Also, they’ll know there are other people struggling with the same challenge. One can find these support groups at both in- and outpatient programs. has added addiction-based and multimodal treatment. This is on top of Psychoanalytic / Psychodynamic treatments as possible gambling addiction treatment.

Addiction-based and Multimodal treatment

This method of treatment is most common in inpatient and outpatient programs. The very first inpatient program for gambling addiction started in 1972. It was at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Brecksville, Ohio. Also, they based the approach of the gambling addiction treatment on the Al. Anon. programs.

The parallels with substance abuse programs incorporate:

  • 12-Step programs and meetings
  • Recovering gamblers as peer counselors
  • The presentation as Gamblers Anonymous
  • Education on preventing relapse
  • How to avoid risky situations
  • Identifying triggers
  • Developing skills for dealing with cravings and urges

The reasoning behind this approach is that gambling addicts lack effective coping mechanisms. Therefore, to correct this they will learn a range of skills for use in different situations.


They see telling of one’s story, in the form of an autobiography as a rite of passage in the program. Also, addicts describe it as a turning point in their lives. Here, patients write an account of their gambling addiction. They will include how gambling has impacted on their lives. In this case, the patient accepts responsibility for their actions. They will describe how their actions and perceptions contributed to the addiction.

Family therapy is a comprehensive approach to gambling addiction treatment. As a result, they will see the larger context of the patient’s family life. Therefore, it brings the struggles each family member faces into the equation.

The addiction-based approach includes after-care planning, which includes:

  • Ongoing individual/group therapy
  • Budget and cash flow plan for financial restoration
  • Establishing a support system
  • Continuing involvement in Gamblers Anonymous
  • Strategies for preventing relapse
  • Plan for resolving legal issues
  • Medication


Psychoanalysis is an attempt at understanding the underlying motivators. These are ones that govern a person’s unconscious processes.

Psychodynamic is the science of the mind, its mental process, and effective components. It can influence human behavior and motivations. In addition, one sees how the opposing forces of cognition and emotion turn into a behavior.

These approaches are the most common form of treatment. However, they have not offered effective solutions for most people. As a result, they still experience some gambling addiction. Even when patients stop gambling, they fall into depression and relapse.


People have found effective reform in some cases. This is where masochism and narcissism, specifically, are present. The reasoning here is that gamblers don’t distinctively gamble for money. Of course, this is according to Freud. In fact, they rather engage in high-risk activities for the thrill of the experience. Some people, according to this theory, may in fact gamble to lose. As a result, they are fulfilling an underlying need for self-harm or lessening feelings of guilt.

Theoretical reasons for gambling include:

  • Narcissism (denying feelings of ‘smallness’)
  • Masochism (self-punishment)
  • Early parental deprivation (finding love and approval in Fate or Luck)
  • Defense against looming depression
  • Defense against feelings of helplessness
  • The veneration of tension and fear
  • Feelings of omnipotence
  • Shortcomings in self-regulation

At present, there is no consensus on the core motivators of gambling addiction. Also, the field has yet to provide comprehensive studies.

The Problem with Self-Proclaimed Abstinence from Gambling

Of course, it is good to self-proclaim abstinence from gambling. In fact, it is one of the best methods of overcoming a gambling addiction. The gamblers will make a promise to themselvesf. It is never to take part in any activities involving gambling, again.

Without proper treatment, this method is the first to fail gambling addiction treatment. There is a simple reason for the failure. It is that a gambler would often give in to the craving to gamble. As a result, it leads to feelings of guilt and depression due to relapse. In a vicious circle, this will often lead to more gambling.

Gambling Addiction Relapse

Gambling addiction relapse is a part of the overall addiction treatment program. It is not just an inability to tame the cravings. In fact, it is a dysfunctional response to a tempting situation. Typically, it occurs during the first few weeks after giving up an addiction. Then the risk decreases gradually. This is as the time of abstinence extends.

Duration Of Relapse

Usually, the time can range from 1 day to 2 weeks. Sometimes, it may last for more. As a matter of fact, longer the time, greater the loss of money.

What Are The Features Of Gambling Addiction Relapse?

Gambling addiction is a bit different from substance addiction. This is because it does not produce the typical physical signs of an addiction problem.

Similarly, its relapse may also be somewhat different. Note these features of gambling addiction relapse.

  • The tendency to go back to the dangerous gambling activities may persist for years. This is after initial abstinence. It may occur in up to two-third of the patients during the first year.
  • Most of them say their urges peak during the late evening.
  • Also, more than half of them relapsed during leisure time. This strongly suggests engagement in activity could distract them from getting back.
  • Nearly half of them report having a low mood and frustration just before a relapse. Some may use gambling as a form of fun.

What Are The Causes Of Gambling Addiction Relapse?

Any of the following factors could cause gambling addiction relapse:

  • The hope of winning: Hope is a good thing, and it can also be bad when it’s false.
  • A need for money
  • Fight boredom
  • Inability to control the urges or thoughts of a potential opportunity
  • Escape from negative situations or low moods
  • Socializing or fitting in
  • In search of excitement or enjoyment

Most Common Forms Of Gambling

  • VLT: Video lottery terminal
  • Casino games
  • Instant scratch tickets
  • Bingo
  • Sports lottery tickets
  • Slot machines

What Are The Triggers Of Gambling Addiction Relapse?

Broadly, they categorize the gambling addiction triggers into two types. They are:

  • Internal factors: These are intangible. Quite often, they tend to differ highly from one person to another. In fact, individual personality traits determine these factors. They include gambling-related thoughts that verify its practice. The rewarding feelings that come from victory. For example, “I am lucky today.”
  • External factors: One can control and prevent these more. They include trigger situations, time, and places.

Tips to Prevent Gambling Relapse

The major goals of any relapse prevention technique are to prevent:

  • The first lapse. Hence extend the period of abstinence.
  • Further events of lapses after the first lapse. They call them relapses.

Additionally, they also suggest ways to identify the triggers. Then change the response to them.
After a Relapse
In any case, the ultimate aim is to prevent ongoing or repetitive relapse. This is even in the presence of one or more triggering factors.
Psychotherapy which they call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown promising results. In this, the therapist teaches various coping skills. As a result, a person may be able to control the urges even in the midst of the potential triggers.
There are many studies which recommend CBT. They have found it effective in reducing relapse rates.
Furthermore, consider trying the following measures:

  • Acknowledge that one has a problem. In fact, it is when a person can search for a meaningful approach to finding the solution.
  • Stay away from the triggers. Focus on the time, situation, company, and mood during a relapse. Also, watch them just before it. If possible, avoid them completely.
  • Distract the compulsive thoughts by engaging in other productive activities. Consider spending time with the loved ones. Similarly, join a gym or watch the favorite movie.
  • Share the problem with the people one trusts. Take care not to select the wrong person for the purpose. It may do more harm than good.
  • Seek treatment for any other underlying mental illness. For example, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
  • If the problem is worsening or causing significant problems, do not hold back. Seek professional help right away. Understand that addiction is not something a person can give up like a bad habit.

If there is someone with gambling addiction, one should talk about an addiction counselor. They can teach ways to deal with the cravings, prevent relapses. Finally, the addict will be on their way to a full recovery.
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Leave a comment

  • Nkosana bukhosini
    This was helpful I am struggling with gambling and I want to quit for good any suggestions will be helpful
    • Zac
      I just want to say today is 37 days for me clean . And I tell you I’ve never been happier. When I was gambling I thought it was the best feeling in the world but it’s not. It takes all the good in your life and throws it away so temporarily it feels good. My life is finally coming together. Go to GA meeting! If you don’t want to at least talk to a therapist and tell everyone close to you . Just know it’s the best feeling in the world to be away from my addiction