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What are the Effects of Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction or gambling disorder is officially diagnosed in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). The DSM-5 categorizes gambling disorder under the umbrella of impulse control disorders.
Gambling addiction affects people with risk factors like co-occurring mental illnesses like mood disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, chronic depression) or personality disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder).
Gambling addiction can significantly affect not only the addict but also their friends, family, coworkers, and classmates. While gambling addiction often wreaks havoc on the physical and mental well-being of the addict, the people around them will also suffer.
People who rely financially on problem gamblers are often hit the hardest, as vital funds for living expenses aren’t spared from being gambled away. In many cases, all trust is shattered between the addict and their loved ones, forcing them to hide money from the gambler.
How Does Gambling Addiction Affect the Gambler?
Although gambling isn’t a substance, its effect on the gambler’s life can be just as catastrophic as substance abuse due to how gambling activates dopamine release. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of pleasure and reward.
Aside from the blatant financial ruin gambling addiction can cause, the addiction can also severely impact the person’s mental and physical health.
Financial Effects of Gambling Addiction
When most people think of the compulsive gambling consequences, they think about the financial effects, and for good reason.
Reports from the National Council on Problem Gambling show that U.S. gamblers lost $120 billion in 2021 alone.
According to research from the National Research Council Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of Pathological Gambling, 28% of the 60 compulsive gamblers attending Gamblers Anonymous reported that they had filed for bankruptcy or had incurred debts of $75,000 to $150,000.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) reports that the average debt generated by a male gambling addict is between $55,000 and $90,000, while female gamblers average $15,000 in debt.
Common financial effects of gambling addiction include:
- Overdue bills that incur late feeds
- Maxed out credit cards
- Denial of credit
- Having low amounts of money, despite adequate income
- Relies on borrowing money from friends, family, or coworkers
- Cannot avoid basic needs like food, clothing, or shelter
- Household and personal items are pawned or sold for cash
- Money is pulled from home equity, savings, investments, or retirement accounts for gambling
- Develops a habit of highly high-risk investing or frequent trading
- Frequently uses payday loans or cash advances
- Property is repossessed
- The home is in foreclosure
- Legal problems
Legal Effects of Gambling Addiction
People with a severe gambling addiction may have legal problems due to unpaid bills or loans, especially if they take out loans with sketchy people or organizations.
In addition, some addicts may engage in illegal gambling outside of casinos, like sports betting with bookmakers, horse betting with bookmakers, sports parlay cards, and illegal casinos.
Bookmakers, or bookies, are people or organizations that accept and pay out bets on sports or other events.
Common legal effects of gambling addiction include:
- Losing custody of children
- House foreclosure
- Wage garnishment
- Repossession of vehicle or other items
- Jail time due to fraud, embezzlement, shoplifting, forgery, larceny, burglary, or petty theft
Employment Issues Due to Gambling Addiction
Individuals deep in gambling addiction often struggle to balance work and gambling habits. Although employment provides the income they want to gamble with, the obsession with gambling can overtake an addict’s ability to perform at work.
According to the National Research Council Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of Pathological Gambling, employers with manual labor jobs are at higher risk of developing gambling disorder and making dangerous mistakes.
Common employment issues of gambling addiction include:
- Deterioration of performance on the job
- Making careless mistakes or having frequent accidents
- Frequent, unexplained absences from work
- Preoccupation with gambling in the workplace (sports betting pools, etc.)
- Borrowing money from coworkers
- Requesting pay in advance and cashing in retirement or vacation time
- Mood swings or changes in personality and interactions with co-workers
Relationship Problems from Gambling Addiction
As people with gambling addiction bet away all their money, it’s prevalent for them to begin taking money from their spouse or family members for gambling. Whether they ask for a loan or steal money, this behavior often becomes a huge source of conflict in relationships.
Loved ones or friends who rely on the addict for shelter or basic needs may begin to resent them for their gambling behavior.
Children of gambling addicts may start noticing their parents fighting about finances and gambling or even suffer neglect due to limited funds.
Common relationship problems of gambling addiction include:
- Arguing more with your partner or family about gambling or money issues
- Risking break-ups and divorce to continue gambling
- Stealing money from friends or family to gamble with
- Lying to friends and family about losses
- Losing the trust of your spouse, family, children, or friends due to gambling
- Being preoccupied with gambling and neglecting the needs of family and friends
- Spending less time with loved ones and friends and more time gambling
Mental Health Issues from Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction can severely affect your mental health and often worsens existing mental illnesses. Unfortunately, there is a very strong link between gambling and suicide.
According to the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey research, 1 in 5 problem gamblers had thought about suicide (19.2%), and 1 in 20 (4.7%) had made a suicide attempt in the past year.
Common mental health issues of gambling addiction include:
- Low self-esteem
- Major depressive episodes
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
Physical Health Complications Due to Gambling Addiction
Despite gambling addiction not directly affecting the body, many addicts experience physical health issues. In many cases, health problems arise due to the psychological stress gambling addiction causes.
Stress from struggling to stop gambling, financial problems, broken relationships, and employment issues can all worsen your physical health and put you at higher risk for chronic health conditions.
In addition, many gambling addicts fail to take care of themselves, avoid exercise, and eat poor diets. Many addicts also drink and smoke cigarettes in excess, furtherer their overall physical health.
Common physical health issues caused by gambling addiction include:
- Sleep issues like insomnia
- Cardiovascular disease
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Intestinal disorders
What Is the Effect of Gambling Addiction on Loved Ones?
Although gambling addicts experience many negative consequences of their addictive behavior, their loved ones are sometimes overlooked.
For friends and family of a gambling addict, the stress, heartbreak, betrayal, resentment, and instability of gambling disorder can take a significant toll.
Effects of Gambling Addiction on Spouse or Partner
Gambling issues often significantly impact romantic partners or spouses, especially those who live together and share expenses or bank accounts.
The spouse of a gambling addict may feel financially insecure and doubt they can rely on the addict for things like rent, mortgages, utilities, and basic needs.
Often there is an emotional toll on the relationship as well, as the addict becomes more fixated on gambling and neglects to maintain their partner’s emotional needs. The issues worsen even further if children are present.
According to research from Mid Sweden University, pathologic gamblers have a 53.5% lifetime divorce rate.
According to the National Research Council (US) Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of Pathological Gambling, 23% of the spouses of pathological gamblers were physically and verbally abused.
Effects of Gambling Addiction on Families
Gambling addiction can damage more than just partners and spouses; children, parents, and close relatives of an addict may also suffer due to addictive behavior.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of gambling disorder, as they often rely on the addict for financial and emotional support.
According to the National Research Council (US) Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of Pathological Gambling, 17% of the children of pathological gamblers received physical and verbal abuse.
Parents or relatives supporting adolescents or young adults with gambling addiction often feel taken advantage of and distrustful of where their money is going.
These loved ones in support positions may also feel incredibly stressed and helpless as they watch their family member descend deeper into addiction.
Effects of Gambling Addiction on Friends
Friends of gambling addicts can be just as impacted as close family members. For gambling addicts who borrow or steal money to continue their habit, friends may be the next target after exhausting options with family members.
These friends may feel it’s not their place to get involved since they’re not family.
Nonetheless, the gambling addict may pressure them to lend money, take out credit cards in their name, or support them financially.
Other Relationships Affected by Gambling Addiction
Coworkers, classmates, colleagues, or neighbors of addicts may also be affected by gambling addiction.
As the addict fails to secure gambling money or resources from family and friends, they may turn to more distant contacts for support.
People who only know the addict through work or school may be unaware there’s a problem and believe they are genuinely helping by lending money or financial support. Without realizing it, they have been taken advantage of and have enabled the addict’s gambling issue.
Get Help for a Gambling Problem Near You
If you suspect you or a loved one may have a gambling problem, professional intervention is often the key to beating problem gambling and returning to a normal life.
Gambling addiction treatment will vary per person, so it’s essential to research before deciding on a plan. You can start by talking with your primary care physician or mental health provider to assess whether you meet the criteria for gambling addiction.
Many gambling addicts benefit from psychiatry approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy. You can get a therapist referral from your doctor or visit the SAMHSA treatment locator at findtreatment.gov to search for therapists in your area.
Self-help options like Gamblers Anonymous and similar support groups can offer vital support and accountability from peers who can relate to what you’re going through.
You can also use National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER or the helpline chat. This helpline is free, confidential, and available 24/7 in all 50 states.
FAQs About Effects of Gambling Addiction
What are the common consequences of gambling addiction?
Common consequences of gambling addiction include:
- Financial issues
- Mental health problems
- Physical health issues due to stress
- Relationship issues
- Job loss
- Losing your house
- Bad credit
- Huge debt
- Losing custody of children
- Broken relationships with family and friends
- Suicidal thoughts
How does problem gambling affect your personal relationships?
Gambling can easily destroy personal relationships, especially with people who rely on the addict financially. People with gambling problems may repeatedly ask family and friends to lend them money or even steal money when the answer is no.
By addressing gambling disorder in therapy and including these affected loved ones in the gambling addiction recovery process, healing and mending these relationships is possible.
How does gambling affect you mentally?
Gambling frequently causes the addict stress and guilt, especially when gambling takes a financial toll on them and their family.
As their relationships fall apart, many addicts become anxious, depressed, isolated, and may even contemplate suicide. For addicts with co-occurring mental illnesses, gambling can make many symptoms even worse.