Understanding The Facts Behind Gambling Disorder Statistics

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/09/2020

Gambling addiction is a significant problem in the United States and around the world. For many people, gambling is a bit of light-hearted fun to engage in occasionally. They don’t feel the need to gamble, but they enjoy taking a little risk now and then. But when they’ve had a little fun, they have no trouble moving on to something else. But for those with gambling addiction, it isn’t as straightforward. Here are some gambling statistics and what they might mean to you.

Is Gambling Addictive?

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Gambling can be very addictive. Not everyone who gambles becomes addicted. However, many people do become addicted to it. The evidence shows up in lost jobs, home foreclosures, criminal activity, and damaged relationships.

Definition Of Gambling Addiction

So, what is the definition of gambling addiction? In simplest terms, it’s gambling habits that negatively affect personal goals, family relationships, and occupational success. If you go out gambling once in a while, spend no more than reasonable limits you’ve set, and leave easily when that happens, you probably don’t have a gambling problem. But if gambling is impacting your life, it’s worth considering that you might have a gambling addiction.

Screening For Gambling Addiction

Many people recognize that they have a gambling problem but don’t know how to resolve it. Others aren’t sure whether their gambling habits are severe enough to warrant further thought. There’s an easy way to find out. You can take an online gambling addiction test to get some feedback on the question of whether you’re addicted to gambling or not. After answering a few multiple-choice or yes-no questions, you get an immediate report that rates your symptoms’ existence or severity.

How Many People Are Addicted To Gambling?

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) offers several fascinating statistics related to gambling addiction. The NCPG states that about 1% of U.S. adults meet the diagnostic criteria for severe gambling addiction in any given year. That amounts to about 2 million people in the U.S. An additional 2-3%, or approximately 4-6 million, have symptoms that would qualify them for a diagnosis of mild to moderate gambling addiction.

Another estimate, this one by the North American Foundation of Gambling Addiction Help (NAFGAH), puts the number even higher, saying that about 10 million people in the U.S. have a gambling problem.

Is Casino Addiction The Only Problem?

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The casino industry is flourishing since gambling became legal under federal law. Most states have at least one casino. But other types of gambling can lead to addiction. Other forms of gambling to consider include:

  • Lottery tickets
  • Sports betting
  • Betting on games like pool or golf
  • Bingo
  • Betting on horse races or dog races
  • Internet gambling

More Gambling Addiction Stats

Another question you might ask is about who gets addicted to gambling. The truth is that it can happen to anyone. However, some people seem more susceptible to gambling addiction than others. Here are more statistics from the NAFGAH.

Only 0.1% of women but 1.2% of men develop gambling problems.

What about age? 16-24-year-olds are the most susceptible, with 1.4% of them having a gambling addiction. The closest group to them is 35-44-year-olds, at 1.1%. Next are 25-34-year-olds, with a rate of 0.8%. People 45-55 and older, have a rate of 0.3% or less and are far less likely to be problem gamblers.

Consequences Of Compulsive Gambling

According to the NCPG, gambling has a societal cost of $7 billion in the U.S. each year. That’s partly the financial cost to the individuals and families of people with gambling addiction. However, it also includes the costs of gambling-related crimes, increased healthcare expenses, bankruptcy, job loss, and other financial costs of gambling addiction.

There are other consequences of problem gambling that do not show up on your financial ledger. For example, when one person in a relationship has a severe gambling addiction, their partner may decide to divorce them. You might spend more time away from your loved ones as you focus on winning the next bet. Your family either suffers through it or finds a way to escape.

Also, substance abuse often goes hand in hand with problem gambling. Many casinos give away free drinks to entice people to stay longer and bet more “loosely.”

Gambling addiction can also harm your physical health. For example, problem gamblers tend to have higher levels of chronic stress. This leads to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, ulcers, and other stress-related medical problems. Gambling addicts tend to have higher cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can negatively affect your metabolism, blood sugar levels, memory, and inflammation levels.

Why Is Gambling Addictive?

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Sometimes it’s hard to understand how people can get addicted to gambling. After all, it’s not like you’re taking a drug or drinking too much alcohol, right? The problem is that gambling has a physical effect on your brain. It fires up your brain’s reward system in the same way that drugs or alcohol do. After a while, your brain adapts to your current level of gambling. At that point, it begins to take more gambling to get the same effect. Then, either you’re gambling more often, making higher wages, or taking more risks to get the money to gamble.

However, not everyone who gambles has a gambling addiction. About 85% of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their life, and 60% have gambled in the last year. So, why is gambling such a problem for some people? No one knows exactly why some have a problem with it, and some don’t. However, certain factors may put you at greater risk of developing a gambling problem. You may be more likely to have a gambling problem if:

  • You have other mental health problems
  • You’re young or middle-aged
  • You’re a male
  • Friends of family who influence you to gamble
  • You take medications for restless leg syndrome or Parkinson’s disease
  • You’re highly competitive
  • You’re easily bored
  • You’re often restless
  • You’re a workaholic
  • You’re impulsive

Signs You Might Have Gambling Addiction

So, how do you know if you have a gambling addiction? By taking a screening test, you can take a quick, easy assessment. You’ll find questions about some of the symptoms of compulsive gambling on the test. Here are the most common signs of gambling addiction.

  • You chase losses, betting more to try to get back what you lost.
  • You’re always thinking of gambling.
  • You’re always focused on how to get more money for gambling.
  • You lie to your family to hide how much you gamble.
  • You need to place higher wagers to get the same thrill as before.
  • You try to control your gambling but can’t.
  • You gamble to escape the other problems in your life.
  • You gamble to feel more powerful and less helpless.
  • You feel irritable and restless when you try not to gamble.
  • You damage relationships due to your gambling.
  • Your gambling is contributing to problems at work or school.
  • You steal or commit fraud to support your gambling habit.
  • You ask others to give or lend you money to replace what you lost so that you can pay your bills.

What You Can Do If You’re Gambling Compulsively

Gambling addiction doesn’t go away easily. It’s often too hard to realize that your gambling is more than a way to have fun or let off steam. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step. But what can you do once you know you’re addicted to gambling? The two main types of intervention for compulsive gambling are therapy and support groups.

Therapy

Several types of therapy can be helpful with compulsive gambling. Your therapist can use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you “unlearn” your old gambling habits and learn new ways of dealing with life’s challenges. You can learn coping skills and ways to manage your urges to gamble. You identify unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts, evaluate them, and adopt different beliefs to serve you better.

In Exposure Therapy, your therapist can guide you as you systematically encounter gambling situations. Before the exposure and at each step along the way, you learn techniques to manage your gambling symptoms more effectively. If your loved ones have been affected by your gambling, family therapy can help you heal those relationships.

Support Groups

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Several support groups provide help for people with gambling addiction. In the group, you can hear how others are facing and dealing with their habits. You can share your story with people who have seen addiction from the gambler’s perspective. In addition, you know that there’s a place you can regularly go to receive support. Some of the support groups for gambling include Gam-Anon and Gamblers Anonymous. You may also find local groups in your community.

Medications

Although many gambling addicts can manage their addiction without medications, meds can prove helpful for some people. Certain antidepressants and mood stabilizers can help if your gambling is at least partly related to a mental health problem like OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. Some medications, called narcotic antagonists, have been used both for substance abuse and gambling addiction. A psychiatrist, or in some states, a psychologist, can prescribe these medications if you meet the criteria for gambling addiction.

Conclusion

Gambling statistics can help you realize that you’re not alone. Everyone is different. Even though gambling addiction happens to some people, that doesn’t mean it’s happening to you. And even though it doesn’t happen to everyone, that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen to you.

So, rather than relying on the statistics to tell you what you should do, take a screening test or see a therapist. Go to a support group for problem gamblers. Do whatever you need to do to assess your problem and get the help you need. Doing so may change your life for the better in more ways than you realize now.