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What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling involves betting something valuable (often money) for the chance to win something more valuable. It’s a risky behavior and triggers the reward system in your brain. Similarly to alcohol or addictive drugs, gambling can become addictive.

Considered an impulse-control disorder, gambling addiction is progressive and characterized by compulsive behaviors. Individuals with a gambling addiction will feel unable to control their urge to continue gambling, even when doing so is harmful to their personal, social, and financial health.

Gambling addiction has far-reaching consequences. It may significantly impact your physical and psychological health. Gambling addiction may also have social implications, leading to tension at home and during social events. Due to the progressive nature of gambling addiction, it’s a condition that varies in severity and can worsen over time without professional help.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

One main sign of gambling addiction is when a person can’t stop gambling even though they want to. Other signs of this condition include:

  • A preoccupation with gambling that’s constant or near-constant
  • Multiple failed attempts to quit gambling
  • Developing a tolerance to the thrill of gambling, leading to progressively riskier behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Lying about gambling behaviors
  • Gambling to gain back money that’s already been lost
  • Choosing gambling over work, family obligations, hobbies, social gatherings, etc.
  • Experiencing work, family, or social issues because of gambling
  • Feelings of irritability or restlessness when one attempts to quit gambling
  • Turning to illegal activity like theft for gambling money
  • Asking others for gambling money
  • Gambling in response to stress, anxiety, or depression

Gambling addiction can lead to physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Migraines
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide

Denial is experienced by most people with gambling addiction. This can make it difficult for individuals with this condition to seek help. Friends and family members may share concerns about gambling an encourage the individual to find treatment.

How is Gambling Addiction Treated?

Gambling addiction is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual from the American Psychiatric Association (fifth edition). This publication is often used in gambling addiction diagnosis.

There are a few main treatment approaches for gambling addiction, including:

Individual therapy

Individual behavioral therapy can be effective in treating gambling addiction. This typically involves exposure therapy to alter habits and target the urge to gamble. The aim of cognitive behavioral therapy is to pinpoint the toxic thoughts triggering behaviors relating to the gambling addiction. Then, productive thoughts are introduced to take the place of the toxic ones.

Group therapy

Group therapy can be helpful because it allows you to relate to others with gambling addiction. This builds a sense of community and support. Group therapy is usually used in conjunction with behavioral therapy.

The gambling addiction of an individual can impact an entire family. In these cases, family therapy may be a beneficial treatment option and help repair damaged relationships.


Gambling addiction can result in depression, anxiety, and other complications that may benefit from medications. Those suffering from severe gambling addiction may be admitted into an inpatient program or residential care to stabilize their condition.


Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.

If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.

And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.

Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:

  • Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
  • Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
  • Encourage resilience and self-management
  • Identify and change negative behaviors
  • Identify and encourage positive behaviors
  • Heal pain from past trauma
  • Figure out goals and waypoints
  • Build self-confidence

Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?

Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.

So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.

Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.


Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.

If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:

  • Make sure someone stays with that person.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

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