8 Signs of a Gambling Addiction


For some people, gambling crosses the line from something fun to do once in a while to an addiction that compels them to gamble even when they don’t have the money to risk. The National Council on Problem Gambling states that two percent of American adults have a legitimate gambling addiction.

Has the Compulsive Need to Gamble Taken Over Your Life?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a person has a gambling disorder when he or she repeatedly engages in gambling behavior that causes personal distress as well as conflicts with finances and relationships. Legal trouble often ensues as well. Gambling disorder, gambling addiction and compulsive gambling all mean the same thing. When someone develops a gambling addiction, the effects that he or she achieves from gambling are similar to what an alcoholic achieves by drinking.

Different people have different motives for compulsive gambling. Some crave the excitement and the break from everyday responsibilities while others use gambling to numb some type of emotional distress. Although both men and women can become problem gamblers, men tend to become addicted in their teens or early adult years and women are more apt to become addicted as older adults.

Criteria Necessary for a Diagnosis of Gambling Addiction

The APA states that a problem gambler must exhibit at least four of eight diagnostic criteria and that the symptoms must last for at least one year. These include:

  1. When attempting to reduce gambling episodes or stop altogether, the person becomes restless and irritable. This happens whether the effort is their own decision or someone close to them has confronted them on their gambling and they’re trying to prove they can stop.
  2. It requires gambling with higher sums of money each time to reach the same level of excitement and satisfaction from the activity.
  3. The thoughts frequently turn to gambling, even when participating in another activity. The problem gambler may fondly recall past gambling events, carefully plan future events, and spend a lot of time thinking about where to get the money for the next gambling expedition.
  4. Several previous attempts to cut back or quit gambling have been unsuccessful.
  5. Instead of swearing off gambling after losing money, the gambling addict returns to the same situation to attempt to win it back. Those in the gambling addiction recovery field refer to this as chasing your losses.
  6. A sure sign of gambling addiction is when the behavior causes a person to lose a job, a relationship, an educational opportunity, or something else significant to them.
  7. Lying to other people to conceal the time and money spent on gambling is another clear sign of addiction.
  8. When debts caused by gambling start to pile up, the addict will turn to others to help cover bills or take out additional credit if he or she still has a decent credit history.

Someone with a gambling disorder may have periods where it appears he or she has stopped gambling. Unfortunately, they’re short-lived and the problem behavior will crop up repeatedly. It’s not uncommon for it to become more destructive with each episode.

Gambling Addiction Affects the Entire Family

Even though the gambler is the one with the problem, the behavior eventually impacts the entire family. For example, the spouse of a gambling addict may start lying to others, bailing him or her out of financial problems, and taking on more hours at work to cover bills that have gone past due because the other partner spent the money on gambling. Children may go without basic necessities such as food and school supplies because there’s not enough money left over to buy them.

Partners of problem gamblers need help to set boundaries so they don’t unintentionally enable the other partner’s addictive behavior. This is true whether the gambling addict chooses to get help or not. Organizations such as Gam-Anon can be extremely helpful for both the problem gambler and those closest to him or her.

UPMC Western Maryland Can Help

At UPMC Western Maryland, we understand that addiction is a disease. We invite you to view this video and then reach out to your provider for help in connecting to additional resources.