Gambling Addiction: Causes, Signs, Symptoms And Effects

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Gambling is thought to stimulate the brain’s reward system just like other behavioral addictions like compulsive gaming or shopping addiction, which can eventually lead to its addiction. It has the potential to destroy the lives of individuals indulged in this habit, along with the lives of addicts’ loved ones. Read along further to find out about what constitutes gambling addiction, what are the signs and symptoms of its addiction, who is most at risk, how to stop gambling, and what help can be taken in this regard.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, also called Compulsive or Pathological Gambling, is an impulse-control disorder. Even while knowing its negative consequences, a compulsive gambler will continue to gamble even if it destroys him socially, financially, or emotionally. The addicts put gambling activities at the top of their priority list. They think about it all the time and fantasize about what the next move will bring for them, and the urge to do it simply uncontrollable. As a result, they lose their relationships, work, and end up in huge debts and financial disaster.

Problem gambling is a less severe form of addiction in which the problem does not get out of control but is still severe enough to disrupt one’s life. If a person is preoccupied with this habit and spends more and more time and money on it, then he has a gambling problem.

With the advancement of the internet over the past few years, online gambling has also become widespread as opposed to offline gambling. According to research, online gambling may be more problematic because of easy availability, accessibility, affordability, and anonymity.

Asian woman gambling in casino.

Most Common Forms Of Gambling

Gambling can encompass various different activities and types, some of which are listed below:

  • VLT: Video lottery terminal
  • Casino games
  • Instant scratch tickets
  • Bingo
  • Sports lottery tickets
  • Slot machines
  • Betting on various sports and games
  • Roulette
  • Poker
  • Blackjack
  • Craps
  • Baccarat
  • Bingo
  • Online poker, slots, or roulette
  • Raffles
  • Flipping coins
  • Stock market

Causes of Gambling Addiction

There are several factors that can affect a person’s ability to involve themselves in this habit. These factors can broadly be categorized as biological, genetic, and environmental factors and are discussed below.

Biological Factors

According to this study, certain biological changes in the body can become a cause for problem gambling and its addiction.

These Include:

  • Abnormalities in Serotonin levels
  • Abnormalities in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
  • Elevated levels of Dopamine
  • High levels of Norepinephrine (NE)

Genetic Factors

Based on this research, genetics also plays a dominant role in causing problem gambling and addiction. The study shows there are some specific allele variants of candidate genes that correspond to these neurotransmitter systems associated with problem gambling

depressed caucasian man sitting in front of casino slots.

Environmental and Behavioral Factors

At the environmental level, there are certain factors that increase the risk of individuals falling into this addiction.

Some Of These Factors, as Discussed in This Study, are Listed Below:

  • Advertisements that promote this act
  • Easy accessibility of gambling venues
  • Low-income neighborhoods
  • Family history of indulging in this act
  • To get the adrenaline rush
  • As a means of coping with difficult and stressful situations
  • To address certain financial problems.

Myths and Facts About Addiction Gambling

There are several myths associated with this addiction, whereas the facts are different from them. This is further elaborated below:

Myths Facts
A person must gamble daily to be considered a problem gambler A problem gambler can gamble frequently or infrequently; it just causes problems for him and his family.
If a person can afford to gamble, it is not a problem. Apart from the financial aspects of this problem, there are several other negative consequences such as relationship problems, family issues, legal problems, mental health problems, depression, and anxiety, which can affect a problem gambler irrespective of how much money he has.
If a person is a problem gambler, he must be irresponsible and unintelligent with weak willpower. People from all sorts of life can fall into this problem, and any strong-willed and intelligent person is just as likely to fall into this prey.
Partners or family members of a problem gambler is often the cause and driving force for the person to gamble. Problem gamblers often try to blame others for their acts and try to rationalize their behavior by putting the responsibility on someone else.
A problem gambler who has fallen into debt because of his disorder should be helped financially to pay off the debt. Although this might seem like the right thing to do, it will just enable the gambler to again continue on this path as he will be aware that people would be ready to help him again.

Risk Groups

There are certain risk factors that can increase the risk of developing an addiction to gambling. These are discussed below:

Age

Most individuals with a gambling problem are young and middle-aged men. Individuals who are exposed to this habit in childhood or teenage years are more at risk of becoming compulsive gamblers in adulthood.

Sex

Men are more likely to develop compulsive gambling as compared to women, although the women who do gamble become quickly addicted to it.

Mental Health Disorders

Most compulsive gamblers also have certain mental health problems, and people with problems of substance abuse, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more at risk to develop gambling problems.

Family Influence or Peer Pressure

People who see their friends and family gamble are more likely to start this habit and get compulsively engrossed in it.

Mans hands holding poker cards.

Ethnicity and Socio-Economic Status

People of different ethnicities and socioeconomic status are also at risk for developing this addiction, e.g., whites are more at risk as compared to African Americans when it comes to this problem.

Certain Medications

Certain medications such as dopamine agonists that treat Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome can cause compulsive behavior in some patients as a side effect. These people are more at risk of developing problems with gambling.

Personality Traits

Certain personality traits such as being a workaholic, highly competitive, restless, and always in need of something new, exciting, and thrilling may make a person more vulnerable to develop problem gambling.

Signs Of An Addiction to Gambling

There are certain signs of addiction to gambling that one can be on the lookout for to determine if someone has a problem with gambling or not.

These are Divided Into the Following Categories are Described Below:

Physical signs

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Problems at work
  • Irritation
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Inability to stop
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Pale skin
  • Dark circles under eyes

Behavioral Signs

  • Keeping it a secret
  • Irritability caused by family and friend when they express their concerns
  • Anxiety when not indulging in this act
  • Depression
  • Suicide thoughts and attempts
  • Compulsive thoughts and behavior related to this problem
  • Guilt
  • Engaging in criminal activities
  • Distancing from friends
  • Relationship problems

Financial Signs

  • Financial problems
  • Keep thinking about how to get money
  • Borrowing money
  • Chasing losses, keep trying to win back the money they lost
  • Selling assets
  • Increased debts

Phases of Addiction to Gambling

When a person is a gambler, his feelings and actions are different depending on whether he is winning, losing, or in some other dilemma.

Therefore, This Addiction Can be Divided Into the Following Phases:

  • The winning phase – characterized by continuing to gamble after winning because of the perception of a winning streak. 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.
  • The losing phase – continuing to gamble after losing to earn back the money. 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 desperation phase – taking irrational risks in the hope of a big win that will offset all previous losses. The last phase, the desperation phase, is where time seems to be running out, and the gamblers begin 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.
gambler man losing a lot of money.

Effects Of Gambling Disorder And Its Addiction

This kind of gambling disorder can lead to various serious and life-threatening problems and have ever-lasting consequences for the addict’s life.

Some of These Complications Can Include:

  • Relationship problems
  • Academic or work problems
  • Financial problems such as debts and bankruptcy
  • Legal problems
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, restlessness, and other psychological disorders.
  • Poor physical health.
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts and intentions
  • Suicide

Dealing With Gambling Problem And Addiction

However, once a person realizes that he/she has a problem, there can be several steps that can be taken in order to get rid of this addiction and rebuild their lives. These include some self-help tips and things that their partners can do in order to overcome this obstacle together.

Self-help Tips

Some of the self-help tips that an addict can do to rid himself of this addiction are listed below:

  • Discover some healthier and effective ways of managing emotions, moods, and boredom, so one does not resort to gambling in such situations. These can include exercise, socializing with friends who don’t gamble, taking up interesting hobbies, meditation, yoga, and other healthy activities.
  • It is very difficult to give up on any kind of addiction without a strong support system. Try to find support in the form of friends, family, or colleagues who will act as a strong pillar in your fight against addiction.
  • There are several support groups that one can join to find all the help, support, and guidance that one needs in the journey towards overcoming addiction. These include 12-step recovery programs as well as other local support programs.
  • Overcoming addiction can take a toll on one’s psychological health. So seeking help for all kinds of mood and mental disorders is another important step that one can take.

Dos and Don’ts For An Addict’s Partner

When one is in a fight against any kind of addiction, perhaps the best support and help that anyone can provide is their spouse or partner. Following are some of the dos and don’ts for the partner of an addict:

Sr. No. Dos Don’ts
1. Engage in a healthy conversation with their partner about the negative effects of compulsive gambling in a calm and stress-free environment. Lose your cool and temper or give deadlines that are difficult to meet.
2. Look for support groups so they can receive guidance and support from people who have gone through similar circumstances. Show a blank eye to the positive and helpful qualities of the partner.
3. Make the partner realize that they are seeking help because of the negative effects of their habit on the whole family. Leave the partner alone in times of family gatherings and activities by preventing them from joining.
4. Keep talking with the children about the problem and its effects. Think that the fight and treatment against addiction will be easy and bump-free.
5. Keep the financial transactions and money matters in their own hands and monitor the financial activities of the partner. Enable their partner’s addiction by clearing their debts or giving them money.
6. Show complete support to the partner during their addiction treatment and not to lose hope during the long process. Deny their partner’s problems to themselves or their children.

How To Stop Gambling?

There are several ways if one is considering how to stop gambling. Gambling addiction treatment can take place via several approaches such as therapies, medications, and other techniques, some of which are discussed below.

Therapies

According to a research, some of the therapies which show successful treatment options for addiction to gambling are elaborated below:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has gained popularity as a successful therapeutic technique for treating a compulsive gambler. This problem-oriented approach focuses on challenging the irrational thought processes and beliefs that result in compulsive behaviors. During this therapy, patients are taught skills and strategies that help them change those beliefs and addictive processes.

Motivational Interviewing or Enhancement

Motivational interviewing also provides a successful approach through which patients with compulsive gambling disorders can be treated. This strategy works by exploring and resolving reservations towards change while at the time, increasing their motivation and self-esteem by dealing with problem behaviors.

Other Psychoanalytic or Psychodynamic Therapies

Several other psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapies are utilized, which help the gambler recognize the underlying source of his distress and confront it. By treating the underlying causes, the path for the treatment of the current addiction is paved.

Medication

Certain medications have also shown promising results in treating the addiction associated with gambling. Based on recent research, medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help. SSRIs show positive results by decreasing cravings and helping in abstinence Lithium carbonate and clomipramine have also been used to decrease cravings in such patients. Carbamazepine, which is an anticonvulsant, has been used as a mood stabilizer and for treating this addiction.

Support Groups

Based on the 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) self-help group helps individuals who want to overcome their gambling disorder. This technique teaches patients the courage to admit their loss of control over the habit, recognize a higher power that can give them the strength to overcome this problem, and examine and amend past errors and mistakes. This program has proven to be successful for many gamblers with varying degrees of addiction.

Some of the most common and effective support groups include:

Addiction-Based and Multimodal Approach

This technique of treatment includes various approaches that are utilized in inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs. This approach, as described in this study, considers gambling addiction to be similar to substance abuse and, therefore, uses similar treatment techniques.

These Can Include:

  • The use of recovered gamblers to guide and support the patients as peer counselors.
  • The importance of 12-step meetings and Gamblers Anonymous meetings are also emphasized along with educational programs about this addiction, relapse, and prevention.
  • Patients are taught skills to avoid high-risk situations so they can recognize the triggers and avoid them. They are also taught problem-solving and coping skills so they can deal with cravings and impulses.
  • Patients are encouraged to write their autobiography and a history of their problem and read it to their peers so they can connect with each other’s struggles and draw motivation and strength from it.
  • Joint or family therapy is also used, which focuses on improving the family’s relationship with the gambler, who often feels angry and frustrated with him. This betterment of the relationship between the gambler and his family helps increase his motivation and adds to the success of his treatment.
  • Aftercare planning and support, which includes identification of a support system, continued involvement in GA meetings, relapse prevention strategies, budget and plan for financial restitution, a plan for addressing legal issues, ongoing individual and group therapy, and medications, helps to keep the gambler on the right track and avoid relapse.
Woman writing a recovery plan.

Relapse Of Addiction to Gambling

Relapse is considered a common part of recovery from any kind of addiction. It is not just an inability to tame the cravings. It is a dysfunctional response to a tempting situation. Typically, relapse occurs during the first few weeks after giving up an addiction. Then the risk decreases gradually. However, this does not mean that it cannot be prevented.

Usually, this addiction relapse can range from 1 day to 2 weeks. Sometimes, it may last for longer. Recognizing that a relapse has occurred and immediately trying to overcome it can go a long way in determining how fast the patient will recover from it.

Causes Of Relapse

Any of the following factors could cause gambling addiction relapse:

  • The hope of winning.
  • A need for money
  • To fight boredom
  • Inability to control the urge or thoughts of a potential opportunity
  • To escape from negative situations or low moods
  • Socializing or fitting in
  • In search of excitement or enjoyment

Tips to Prevent Gambling Relapse

For many gamblers, the biggest problem is not to quit the habit but to stay on the road to recovery and prevent a relapse. There can be so many triggers that may interfere with the gambler’s will power and cause him to relapse. However, by making some healthier choices and looking for healthier alternatives can a past gambler prevent relapse.

Some of These are Discussed Below:

  • In order to feel the excitement and adrenaline rush that one feels during gambling, a past gambler can take up sports or challenging hobbies such as rock climbing, hunting, mountain biking, etc.
  • They can socialize with people who do not gamble, join a support group, and spend time with friends and family.
  • They can do volunteer work, which will not only make them feel good but keep them busy as well.
  • They can try various therapies if they feel depressed or are unable to cope with emotions.
  • They can try to keep themselves busy by taking up music, arts, or other interesting hobbies so that they don’t feel lonely.
  • They should do regular exercise, yoga, and meditation to help relieve themselves of any kind of stress.
  • If they have any kind of financial problems, it is always better to seek help with debts from a credit counselor instead of resorting to gambling to change the financial situation.
Sporty man doing yoga plank.

Recovery From Addiction to Gambling

If there is someone with addiction issues related to gambling, they should talk about the problems with an addiction counselor. They can teach them ways to deal with the cravings and urges so that they overcome this addiction. In case of serious addiction, rehabilitation programs and therapies can help the gambler overcome the addiction and prevent relapses. Anyone can easily contact them through their gambling addiction hotline and get all the required information. Through professional guidance, support, and medication, the addicts will be on their way to a full recovery.

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Page Sources

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Published on: April 18th, 2017

Updated on: January 20th, 2021

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.