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The Signs of Gambling Addiction

For some people, the thrill of gambling adds a bit of extra excitement to watching your favorite sport or playing a game. If you win, you don’t just win the game, you usually win a bit of cash or something else, too. Losing hurts more, because you may lose your hard-earned cash or valuables.

Usually, people are able to limit gambling to a trip to Las Vegas, a night at the casino, or a game of poker between friends. Sometimes, though, a little betting can be insidious, taking over someone’s life. This is when gambling becomes compulsive, an addiction.

In the United States alone, around 10 million people struggle with gambling addiction, costing taxpayers and seniors an estimated six billion dollars annually. Since many people are able to enjoy gambling in a healthy manner, it can be tough to spot when it becomes a compulsion.

Mental or Emotional Signs

A clear sign of gambling addiction involves an preoccupation with gambling, emotionally and/or mentally. In terms of emotionally, gambling is problematic when it’s used to cope with negative feelings. Some people may enjoy heading to the casino or betting on horse racing as a way to relax, but when it becomes a crutch, it may become an addiction. If you notice a loved one needing to gamble when they’re stressed, sad, or anxious, this can be problematic and indicative of compulsive gambling. You may even notice them getting irritable or anxious when they’re not gambling.

Some people may enjoy heading to the casino or betting on horse racing as a way to relax, but when it becomes a crutch, it may become an addiction.

This leads us to discussing a mental preoccupation with gambling. A chief sign that gambling has crossed over into addiction is when gambling becomes a constant thought. This could mean endless discussions related to gambling or topics related to gambling, like reminiscing about gambling victories or planning the next casino trip. This may also include figuring out ways to make more money to gamble with. If you notice that a loved one seems to have an unhealthy obsessed with gambling, that’s a red flag.

Dishonesty About the Gambling

Gambling addiction is a lot like other addictions, and mimics many of the telltale signs of many addictions, one of which is being dishonest (to themselves and others) about the problem. Someone with a gambling addiction may display shame or awareness of the problem or a fear of judgement from family members. In some cases, these feelings can manifest in outright lies about the extent about the problem. This can mean hiding evidence of gambling, like betting slips, receipts, or losses. Someone suffering with gambling addiction may also lie about how often they gamble or how much they’ve lost or bet.

It can also be difficult to attribute deception specifically to addiction, since without other signs, you could logically explain away some of it.

If the addict is actively trying to hide their problem, this may mean you have to be ready to see through the deception. It can also be difficult to attribute deception specifically to addiction, since without other signs, you could logically explain away some of it. Lying about losses? They’re embarrassed, but it’s under control. Discarding evidence of betting could be explained away, because they didn’t think it was important to keep old receipts or didn’t think it was necessary to tell the family. This is why finding other signs of pathological gambling is important.

Escalating Betting and Financial Damage

If you gamble, eventually, you’re going to lose. Sometimes, when you lose, you may just cut your losses and walk away. Other times, you’ll play a bit longer and maybe win back your losses. A sign of gambling addiction is when a loss causes a chain reaction of escalating betting, so the addict can win back what they lost. This is called chasing a loss and often leads to further losses, which can create a dangerous cycle of losing and chasing that loss into bigger losses.

A sign of gambling addiction is ‘chasing the loss,’ which is when a loss causes a chain reaction of escalating betting so the addict can win back what they lost.

If you’re close enough to a loved one to have a good idea about their financial status, you may be in a good position to watch for compulsive gambling. If you notice your loved one has growing financial struggles, despite continued gambling habits, that’s a red flag. If they’re ignoring bills and taking out loans to go gambling, that’s a clear sign of addiction. You may also see a growth in spending or losses at gambling, which may be a sign of chasing losses.

Losing Control

So, what’s the biggest difference between regular betting and problem gambling? Gambling can become an addiction when there’s a compulsion to do it. In other words, when somebody loses control over the activity, it becomes an addiction. Losing control is a common thread through all these signs. When you obsess about gambling or need it as a crutch, the addiction controls your mental and emotional state. You lie or hide signs of this loss of control. Finally, you lose control over how you interact with the habit, fueling the gambling until it strips away your financial stability.

When you obsess about gambling or need it as a crutch, the addiction controls your mental and emotional state.

Despite these negatives, the addict still feels the need to gamble, even to the point of pushing people away, especially people who try to get between the addict and their gambling. Even if your loved one tries to stop or cut back on gambling, they may struggle to do so. This lack of control of when, how, and why they gamble is the clearest sign of gambling addiction and needs to be addressed immediately.

Getting Help

Some of the signs alone may not be enough to prove your loved one has a gambling addiction, but they are enough to start causing you concern. If you notice these signs (especially loss of control), keep an eye out for others. If you’re concerned that your loved one has a problem with compulsive or addictive gambling, get help. Like other types of addictions, there are specialists and groups out there that can help you and your loved one overcome their demons.

Organization Website Phone Number
National Council on Problem Gambling https://www.ncpgambling.org/ 1-800-522-4700
Individual State Groups https://www.ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/help-by-state/ Differs between states
Gamblers Anonymous http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/node/1 626-960-3500
Gam-Anon https://www.gam-anon.org/ 718-352-1671

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Gambling addiction is dangerous because it directly taps into the pleasure centers of your brain. A win is exhilarating, which can become something continually seek. The problem can be even worse in casinos, where the bright lights, loud noises, and inviting atmosphere are all calculated to suck you in. You’re there to have a good time, and while you’re in control, you can do so in a healthy manner. But, once that control is gone and it begins to take over your life, the addiction becomes a problem.

If you or a loved one are struggling with gambling addiction, please seek help!

Further Reading

HelpGuide — Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling