Seven Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction
Monday, November 08, 2010

More than 80 percent of adults gamble at least once a year and, for most, it is a harmless form of entertainment. For 1 percent of the population, though, gambling isn’t an enjoyment. It’s a serious problem.

Problem gambling is defined as gambling that begins to interfere and harm any major area of life including psychological, physical, social or vocational. There are seven main warning signs that a person may have a gambling disorder but an accurate diagnosis can only be made by a trained professional.

Many problem gamblers begin gambling during their youth but gambling addictions, like drug and alcohol addictions, affect people from every race, economic background and sex. A problem gambler will wager on whatever game is available, sometimes even creating bets on ordinary, everyday activities.

What are the warning signs of addictive gambling?

1 - Preoccupation
A constant fixation on gambling is one of the easiest ways to notice a gambling addiction. Reliving past gambling triumphs or failures, always planning the next excursion, and continuously thinking of how to get more money to gamble are a few examples of preoccupation.

2 - Escalation
Problem gamblers experience an actual physical reaction that is similar to a drug stimulated ‘high.’ Symptoms from this high can be an increased heart rate, dissociation from reality, among others. Also like a drug high, a tolerance to the amount of money gambled will develop.

To achieve this ‘high’, a problem gambler will need to wager increasingly larger amounts of money to attain the desired effect.

People with a gambling disorder will play until their last dollar is spent. Many problem gamblers end up in dire financial straits and need to rely on others to provide money for their gambling addiction. In severe cases, problem gamblers will break the law to finance their habit.

3 - Trying to Stop
A problem gambler may, unsuccessfully, try to control or stop their gambling. Multiple unsuccessful attempts to stop are a warning sign of a disorder.

Gambling addicts, similar to narcotic addicts, will become restless, irritable and angry during the periods when they try to control or stop their gambling habits.

4 - Escape
Although it may seem that a gambling addiction is a type of pleasure-seeking behavior, the origin of an addiction is to compensate or cover for some type of loss or pain. A problem gambler will use the addiction as a way to forget or escape from the pain.

Emotional pain can also cause a person to feel numb and block out other emotions in the process. Gambling and other addictive behaviors cause a rush of excitement and pleasure that allows the person to get a rush and escape from numbness.

5 - Chasing
If someone is constantly trying to win back losses with more gambling, this is considered ‘chasing.’ A problem gambler will become fixated on trying to win back the money they have lost which often leads to severe monetary problems.

6 - Lying
Lying to friends and family about the amount of time and money spent gambling is a definite warning sign of a gambling disorder.

Problem gamblers will sometimes feel guilty about lying where they have been or how they have spent the money. The guilt adds to the emotional pain and can, in turn, lead to even more gambling to assuage the guilt.

7 - Alienation
When gambling begins to alienate a person’s friends, family or career, this is clear sign that someone is in trouble. Problem gamblers continue to gamble despite risking or losing significant relationships or aspects, like school or career, of their lives.

Ways to break a gambling addiction

Stopping a gambling disorder

The National Council on Problem Gambling provides a ten-question test to self evaluate whether a person may or may not have a gambling disorder. The test is not a substitute for a face to face consultation with a trained professional but can help a person realize that he or she may need to consult a professional.

Like any addiction, problem gambling can be stopped. There are an array of options for help and support, depending on the level of treatment a person needs. Counseling, group therapy and inpatient treatment programs are a few of the traditional means of support. Alternative treatments include residential, private-care facilities, psychotherapy and hypnosis.

The first step in breaking the addiction is acknowledging the problem and seeking help.