A Guide to Understanding Problem Gambling

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For most people, gambling is an “after work” activity which fulfills boredom and acts as form of entertainment. But, for about 10% of gamblers, making bets becomes a compulsive action which is nearly uncontrollable. Known as problem gambling or compulsive gambling, it is a serious issue that can take a toll on the individual’s life as well as, those around them.

Much like alcohol or drugs, gambling stimulates the brain's’ reward system. Whether you’re playing slots, enjoying a few rounds of poker or making a bet on your favorite sports team, your brain is producing more dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals make you “feel good” and are essentially addicting. Although there are no physical withdrawal effects with problem gambling, the individual will experience psychological withdrawals and even cravings. Torn relationships, job loss, legal problems and financial ruin can be the ending result if this issue does not receive proper attention.

In this concise guide to problem gambling, we explain:

  • What is problem gambling and what are the different causes
  • How do you identify problem gambling in yourself or loved ones
  • A simple questionnaire that will tell you if you’re at risk of problem gambling
  • Where to get help and how to minimize your risk by learning to gamble responsible

What is problem gambling?

Compulsive gambling is considered to be an “impulse-control” disorder. With a problem gambler, he or she will continue to gamble whether they’re winning or losing. They will wager when they’re happy, when they’re depressed, when they know the odds are against them or when they cannot afford to lose.

Gambling will happen even when the person knows that they are hurting themselves and/or their loved ones. It’s always on the mind and essentially uncontrollable.

Types of Gambling

  • Online Casinos
  • Land Based Casinos
  • Sports Betting
  • Lottery and Scratch Cards
  • Stock Market

How you can recognize problem gambling?

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Compulsive gambling is sometimes known as the “hidden disorder” because there are no physical signs. It can go on for years without another person ever suspecting the issue. Often, an individual will deny or shrug off their gambling. It’s also very common for the person to go out of their way to hide what they’re doing. Renting out separate apartments to gambling online, having credit card statements sent to a P.O. Box and opening bank accounts to hide cash are all relatively common things for a problem gambler to do.

In the case of compulsive gambling, it is typically loved ones who notice something is going on before the individuals themselves admits to having a problem. This is known as denial. If you look closely you may start to see some red flags. Changes in mood, personality or behavior; increased credit card bills or valuables that disappear are all common signs. Others warning signs include:

  • Constantly talking about gambling
  • Becoming secretive about money and finances
  • Getting increasingly defensive about gambling activity
  • Noticeable desperation for money
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Planning holidays where casinos are available
  • Rise in agitation or irritation
  • Skipping out on work or school to gamble

“Compulsive gambling is sometimes known as the “hidden disorder” because there are no physical signs. ”

Do I have a gambling problem?

If you believe you are spending too much time at a casino, be it online or offline, you may want to double check that you do not have a gambling problem.  Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to 3 or more of them, you may want to seek out some form of help and support.

Do you feel the need to be secretive about your gambling?

Are you able to walk away when you have wagered a set amount of money?

Do you up your bets in a bid to win lost money back?

Do you gamble even when you don’t have the money?

Have friends or family voiced their concerns about your habits and/or behavior?

Have you encountered legal problems, job conflicts or school issues due to your gambling?

Do your attempt to unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety by making a wager?

Reaching out for help

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It’s never too late to make changes for the better. In the case of problem gambling, there are a number of different ways to get help. You, or a loved one, can reach out to a local support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. Online, you can find several websites that offer closed support groups, forums and communities which can be an invaluable tool to overcome the issue at hand.

For serious problems, therapy or counseling is advisable and can help to reach the core reasons that led to compulsive gambling. In a dire situation, rehab is another option.

Responsible Gambling

Gambling is supposed to be fun, and with a little bit of control, it can be.  The following tips may help ensure that you keep your gambling under control and avoid unpleasant circumstances.

  • Never look at gambling as a way to make money. Rather, think of it as an entertainment expense.
  • Only gamble with money you can afford to lose and never with your rent or utility budget.
  • Set a practical spending budget in advance. When it’s gone, it’s over. If you win, walk away.
  • Decide a time limit and when it’s up quit. Come back to have fun another day.
  • Don’t chase your losses. This almost always leads to bigger and bigger losses. Don’t do it.
  • Avoid gambling when you’re sad or upset. Making decisions with a foggy head is never a good idea.
  • Find other healthy forms of entertainment. Gambling should not be your only means of having fun.
  • Safeguard your money. Don’t take your bankcard with you to the casino.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs while gambling. It will cloud your judgment and good judgment is your main line of defense against letting your wagers get out of control.

Places to overcome problem gambling in the US

If you’re sure you need to get help for a gambling problem in the US, there are several different websites you can visit.

The National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline – Offers a confidential, 24-hour helpline for problem gamblers or their family members in the U.S. Call 1-800-522-4700.


Gamblers Anonymous – Twelve-step Gamblers Anonymous program, an international support network of meetings to assist people who have a gambling problem.


Smart Recovery - Self management and recovery training that helps individuals gain independence from problem gambling.