Gambling and Behavioral Addiction
Gambling addiction falls under the category of behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions are behaviors a person regularly repeats because the activity provides dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical. Similar to drug addiction, addictive behaviors can cause a person to become dependent on the effects it has on them.
While gambling addiction is currently the only scientifically recognized form of behavioral addiction, other addictions that often fall under this category include:
- Sex addiction
- Shopping addiction
- Exercise addiction
- Food addiction
- Video game addiction
- Porn addiction
When Gambling Becomes a Problem
Gambling can come in all shapes and sizes. While many people associate gambling with traditional casino games such as blackjack, roulette, slot machines, etc., you don’t have to be in a casino to gamble.
Thanks to the internet and smartphone apps that allow people to gamble from anywhere and more states legalizing gambling, finding somewhere to gamble is practically effortless.
There are two main categories of gambling activity: chance-based and skill-based gambling.
Chance-based gambling doesn’t require skill (e.g., roulette, slot machines, and the lottery)
Skill-based gambling involves strategy (e.g., poker, blackjack, horseracing, and sports betting)
Warning Signs of Gambling Addiction
Identifying early warning signs that you or a loved one might be suffering from gambling addiction is crucial.
Some warning signs of gambling addiction include:
- Inability to stop gambling
- Increasing the amount of money used for gambling to feel satisfied
- Experiencing feelings of restlessness or irritability when not gambling
- Constantly thinking about gambling activities
- Experiencing financial, legal, or work problems as a result of gambling
- Continuing to gamble even after losing (also known as “chasing”)
- Lying to friends and family about gambling
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, having experienced four or more of the above warning signs in the past 12 months qualifies as a gambling addiction.
Consequences of Gambling Addiction
One of the most significant and harmful consequences of gambling is the financial toll it can take. Since someone suffering from gambling addiction cannot stop even when they try, they continue to keep gambling even when they no longer have the means to do so.
Many individuals accrue significant credit card debt to fund their gambling habits. Others with a gambling addiction may suffer from physical ailments associated with their stress, including stomach and sleeping problems.
Depending on the legality of certain types of gambling per state, some individuals may also face legal problems due to their gambling habits.
Gambling Addiction VS Compulsive Gambling
Compulsive gambling is a form of gambling addiction. A compulsive gambler experiences a loss of control when gambling, even if continuing to play will lead to negative consequences.
Someone who is a compulsive gambler has such a strong urge to gamble that they must gamble to satisfy that urge.
Gambling Addiction Statistics
While various terms describe gambling addiction, the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual uses “gambling disorder” as the official term. Below are some facts and statistics as it pertains to gambling disorder.
- Approximately 85% of all adults 18 and older in the U.S. have gambled at least once.
- Approximately 1% of the entire adult population 18 and up in the U.S. has a severe gambling problem.
- Ethnic and racial minorities tend to suffer from a gambling disorder at a higher rate than the rest of the adult population in the U.S.
- Approximately 1/3 of those with a gambling problem recover without formal treatment.
- A reported 17% of problem gamblers and 18% of gambling addicts have attempted suicide.
Who’s at Risk of Developing a Gambling Disorder?
Gambling doesn’t automatically lead to addiction. Most people who gamble will never develop a gambling problem.
Like other forms of addiction, certain risk factors can increase the chances of developing a gambling addiction.
Age: Young and middle-aged adults tend to suffer from gambling problems at a higher rate than older people. Gambling at a young age can also increase the chances of developing a gambling issue.
Sex: Gambling addiction is more common in men than women. Women typically begin gambling later in life but may develop a gambling addiction more quickly than their male counterparts.
Mental Health: People who suffer from a gambling addiction tend to also suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, OCD, ADD, and bipolar disorder.
Outside Influence: As with substance abuse and mental health issues, someone with a family history of gambling addiction is likelier to develop the habit. Additionally, spending time around those who gamble can also increase the risk.
Personality Traits: Certain personality traits can increase someone’s risk of developing a gambling problem. Some personality traits include being highly competitive, impulsive, and easily bored.
Key Terms of Gambling Addiction
In the gambling community, common keywords describe specific activities or events.
Comprehending these terms can help you become more knowledgeable about gambling addiction, especially if you are concerned about your gambling habits.
Chasing is a term used to describe something a gambler will do to try and recoup their losses from a previous bet. Chasing is a commonly used term in sports betting and horse racing.
For example, if a gambler has had a rough day betting on football games on a Saturday or Sunday, if they make a last-ditch effort to turn it around on the final match of the day, they might say they are “chasing.”
A bailout describes a situation where someone gives you money to get out from under your gambling losses; that person is bailing you out.
Asking for and receiving a bailout from a friend or family member one time isn’t necessarily a sign of a more significant issue. Regularly getting a bailout could signify a more significant problem, especially if the person can’t pay the money back.
Tilt describes a person who has lost control due to gambling. This term often appears in casino gaming and games like poker.
If a person is “on tilt,” they might no longer think rationally or clearly while gambling and might begin betting more impulsively or display unpredictable gambling behavior.
A bad beat describes a tough gambling loss or a string of losses involving terrible luck. A typical example of a bad beat would be having 20 at the blackjack table, and the dealer gets 21. The player had an excellent hand in this scenario, but the house still won.
In the sports betting world, a familiar bad beat happens when it seems you are in line to win your bet, but something out of the ordinary results in a loss, like a last-second score for the opposing team.
Types of Gambling
Historically, legal gambling could only be done in person at a casino or parimutuel facility and only in certain states or cities in the U.S. (Las Vegas, Atlantic City, etc.). Many had to resort to illegal gambling, from bookies to offshore gaming accounts.
Gambling has never been easier with the expansion of online gaming and even online casinos and sportsbooks such as Draftkings.
In-person gambling is still the driving force behind gambling both here in the U.S. and around the world. In 2016, the gambling industry brought in close to $400 billion worldwide, with only about $45 billion coming from in-person gambling.
Some examples of popular in-person gambling include:
- Parimutuel facilities (horse tracks, dog tracks, etc.)
- Betting with friends or family members
Thanks to new gambling apps, you can gamble straight from your smartphone or tablet. Depending on the state that you live in, online gambling companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel, and even some traditional casino companies such as Caesars, have created betting apps for your smartphone.
While this has made gambling easier, it can also be dangerous. In the past, you would have to travel to a location that offered legal gambling; now, you don’t even have to get off the couch. The easy access to gambling can be incredibly tempting for someone with a problem or may make it easy for someone to quickly slip into a bad habit.
Co-Occurring Disorders with Gambling Addiction
Many who suffer from gambling addiction also suffer from other mental health or substance abuse issues. A co-occurring disorder occurs when a person has more than one addiction or mental health condition.
Gamblers often suffer from substance abuse or mental health disorders as well. Suicidal thoughts and actions are nearly four times greater in those with gambling addiction.
According to the National Center for Responsible Gaming, those who suffer from gambling addiction are far more likely to also suffer from the following conditions:
- Substance use disorder
- Personality disorders (such as BPD or OCD)
- Mood disorders
- Psychiatric disorders such as impulse control disorder
Gambling Addiction Screening and Assessment Tools
It’s essential to catch any gambling issue as early as possible. Healthcare professionals can identify gambling disorders using several approved screening tools.
One of the easier-to-use tools is the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS). It’s a simple screening tool consisting of three questions to determine if further screening and assessments are needed.
Another screening tool is the Lie-Bet tool. The Lie-Bot is a two-item tool; if a person answers yes to one or both questions, further assessment is needed.
Other screening tools include:
- The DSM-5 criterion for pathological gambling
- NORC Diagnostic Screen
- The South Oaks Gambling Screen
The National Council on Problem Gambling has made many screening tools accessible.
Treatment for Gambling Disorder
While some people develop a gambling problem and can stop on their own, most people that suffer from gambling addiction need to address their addiction professionally.
As with other forms of addiction, not every treatment works for every person. Knowing the different treatment options available is important for choosing your best option.
Therapy (CBT and DBT) for Gambling Disorder
As with substance addiction, many who suffer from gambling addiction choose to go to therapy for help. Behavioral therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is the most successful therapy for treating gambling addiction.
Behavioral therapy helps the person suffering from the gambling problem better understand how they ended up in the position they are in so they can try and prevent it from happening again.
Medication for Gambling Addiction
While no medication specifically treats gambling addiction, certain medications can help a person’s mental psyche.
Research shows that gamblers who also suffer from mental health problems can benefit from mood stabilizers and antidepressants such as:
Gambling Addiction Support Groups
The success of 12-step support groups for substance abuse has led them to expand to help people with other addictions, such as gambling.
Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is the most popular of all gambling-related support groups. It operates the same way AA and NA do, utilizing the 12 steps to help guide those participating through their recovery.
Family and Loved Ones of a Problem Gambler
Gambling addiction doesn’t just affect the gambler; it can also hurt their family, friends, and loved ones.
For those family members and loved ones of a gambling addict, Gam-Anon is a great self-help resource to get the help they need. Gam-Anon is a 12-step support group designed specifically for those who have a loved one who is dealing with a gambling problem.
Like Al-Anon for alcoholics, Gam-Anon provides a safe and supportive environment for the loved ones of a gambler. Gam-Anon can also help them better understand what their loved one is going through with their gambling addiction.
Get Help For Your Gambling Problem
Gambling addiction can leave a person in financial ruin. If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling, it is essential to get help immediately. The National Council on Problem Gambling has a confidential helpline available 24 hours a day: 1-800-522-4700.
You can also call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find addiction treatment options in your area.
FAQs About Gambling Addiction
Is gambling a mental disorder?
In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders formally recognized gambling addiction as a mental health disorder.
What causes gambling addiction?
Various factors can lead to a gambling addiction, including personality traits, age, sex, and mental health conditions.
How do I stop compulsive gambling?
Seeking professional treatment is the best and most successful way to deal with compulsive gambling. Many addiction treatment facilities provide counseling and other services for treating gambling disorders.
You can also join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous—a 12-step program focused on helping individuals overcome their compulsive gambling problem.
Can gambling addiction be cured?
As with other addictions, there is no cure for gambling addiction. It is 100% treatable, though using a variety of treatment options
What is the difference between compulsive gambling and gambling addiction?
Compulsive gambling is another term for gambling addiction.
What are the signs of gambling addiction?
Signs of gambling addiction include being unable to stop gambling, constantly thinking about gambling, and getting into financial or legal trouble by gambling.