Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Disorders

Gambling is betting something of value on a game of chance or an uncertain event with the hope of winning a prize. It includes everything from buying a lottery ticket to the sophisticated casino gambling of the wealthy for both profit and entertainment. Gambling may be legal or illegal, and it can affect people of all incomes, ages, races, religions, and backgrounds. It can ruin lives, impoverish families, and cause debt. It can even lead to homelessness and suicide.

Problem gambling affects an individual’s physical and emotional well-being, relationships, work performance, and school or study achievement. It can also cause financial difficulties and bankruptcy, which often leads to social isolation. Gambling can also have negative effects on children’s development. Those with a gambling disorder experience intense urges to gamble and are unable to control those urges, leading to frequent and prolonged betting activity despite significant harm.

The risk of gambling problems increases with age, but anyone can develop a problem. Gambling problems can be caused by a combination of factors, including psychological and environmental factors. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of gambling disorders so that you can seek help.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

A feeling of excitement or anticipation when gambling. Feeling the need to gamble in order to feel that excitement again. Trying to win back lost money. Feeling restless or irritable when attempting to cut down on gambling or stop altogether. Frequently thinking about gambling and planning future bets. Using gambling to relieve boredom or to self-soothe unpleasant feelings.

You can find help for a gambling problem by seeking professional counseling, participating in family therapy, and getting credit and budgeting help. Counseling can help you understand why you are gambling and how your behavior affects others. You can learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and socialize, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.

It can be difficult to acknowledge that you have a gambling problem, especially if it has cost you money or caused problems in your relationships. You can take steps to help yourself, such as by getting rid of credit cards, putting someone else in charge of your finances, closing online gambling accounts, and staying away from places where you might gamble.

It’s also helpful to seek support from family and friends, or join a support group. You can also find support and information on the Internet or through the phone hotlines for gambling treatment programs. If you have trouble finding help on your own, try a service like BetterHelp, which matches you with therapists who specialize in addiction, relationships, and depression. Take the free assessment, and you could be matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours. This article is adapted from Gabbard’s Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing 2014. Copyright (c) 2014 by Glen O. Gabbard, MD. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.