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Gambling Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Gambling is generally a socially acceptable hobby that many individuals take part in on a night out with friends. However, some people who gamble may develop an addiction. This type of compulsive behavior is referred to as “problem gambling”. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 2% of Americans are affected by an addiction to gambling. Individuals with a gambling addiction may feel an unavoidable urge to buy lottery tickets, visit casinos, play slot machines, bet on sports games, or gamble online.

Gambling Addiction

If you or a loved one are addicted to gambling, it is important to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this behavioral addiction.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

While people with addictions attempt to hide their condition, gambling addiction is difficult to conceal in the long-term. Individuals addicted to gambling may frequently visit casinos or online gambling pools. Even if they don’t gamble at home, the signs of their addiction will begin to display in other areas of their life.

Individuals with a gambling addiction may display some or all of these behaviors:

  • Obsessing over any form of gambling
  • Gambling to feel better or relieve stress
  • Trying and failing to control gambling habits
  • Avoiding commitments to gamble
  • Neglecting bills and expenses in order to gamble
  • Selling possessions to gamble
  • Stealing money to gamble
  • Lying about their gambling habit
  • Feeling guilty about gambling
  • Taking bigger and bigger risks while gambling

Individuals with a gambling addiction may experience severe consequences as a result of their gambling habits. For example, their relationships with friends, family, and significant others may disintegrate. Additionally, it is common for gambling addiction to cause an individual to experience severe financial consequences such as losing their job, car, home, and other personal possessions. People with this addiction don’t always gamble frequently. However, when they do gamble it is difficult for them to stop.

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

Individuals with a gambling addiction may have an overactive insula, the fifth lobe of the brain. When this region of the brain is overactive, individuals will experience distorted thinking. As a result, individuals begin seeing patterns in random sequences causing them to continue gambling – even after suffering a huge loss. Additionally, gambling addiction causes an individual’s brain to respond in the same manner as an alcoholic’s brain would respond to a drink. In other words, the more an individual feeds their habit, the worse the addiction will become.

Gambling behavior becomes a problem when an individual can no longer control it, causing it to interfere with finances, relationships, and career. Unfortunately, individuals suffering from gambling addiction may not realize they have a problem for some time. This is because of their insula lobe being overactive, causing distorted thinking. Many people with gambling habits are considered responsible and dependable people. However, there are some factors that can lead to a change in behavior and the development of addiction.

These risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Retirement
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Job-related stress
  • Emotional upheaval, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Loneliness or “empty nest syndrome”
  • Co-occurring addictions
  • Environmental factors, such as friends or available opportunities to gamble

How is a Gambling Addiction Treated?

With proper treatment, gambling addiction is typically manageable. Unlike addictions to food, you do not need the object of your addiction to survive. However, individuals with a gambling addiction must develop a healthy and balanced relationship with money. Additionally, it is extremely important for individuals to quit gambling completely. This is because even occasional gambling can lead to a relapse. In general, gambling addiction is treated using the same methods as treating an addiction to drugs or alcohol. However, there are different types of treatment programs to choose from.

Inpatient Treatment Facility

Although it’s not required, many people find the structure they need to overcome a gambling addiction within an inpatient treatment facility. This form of treatment may be especially beneficial for individuals who have a hard time avoiding going to casinos or other gambling venues. Additionally, inpatient treatment is a good step for individuals who gamble to relieve stress from their everyday lives. Those who attend inpatient treatment will have to remain on-campus for a set amount of time, anywhere from 30 days to a year.

During inpatient treatment, medical professionals will provide psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and prescribe patients medication when necessary. If your gambling addiction is caused by an underlying psychiatric condition, medication could be a positive turning point in your recovery. Additionally, you will learn how to make positive lifestyle changes in order to promote long-lasting recovery and abstinence from gambling.

Outpatient Rehabilitation Program

Outpatient rehab programs are more frequently used in terms of gambling addiction. In this type of treatment program, individuals attend classes at a facility. Additionally, patients will attend one-on-one therapy sessions and group therapy. Whereas inpatient treatment requires that you reside on-campus, outpatient programs allow you to live at home. This allows patients the ability to attend to their responsibilities, such as school, work, or their children.

Similar to inpatient treatment, medical professionals will provide behavioral therapies, psychotherapy, and medications to those who need them. Patients will also continually learn coping mechanisms, vital life skills, and create relapse prevention plans. All of this is done in order to provide patients with a strong foundation of recovery for them to build upon after treatment.

12 Step Programs

Gamblers-Anonymous (GA), or other 12 step programs may help you to overcome gambling addiction. This type of program is helpful for those who can’t afford to go to a professional treatment facility. On the other hand, many people who attend treatment programs will continue their recovery process by attending 12 step meetings. These meetings help you build a network of other recovering gambling addicts, allowing you to relate to others and find support for your issues.