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Gambling Addiction Warning Signs

Like substance use disorders, gambling addiction has its own set of warning signs. By learning these warning signs and identifying them in yourself or a loved one, you can better spot gambling addiction and avoid or lessen the effects of gambling.

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Top 8 Warning Signs of a Gambling Addiction

Identifying the warning signs of gambling addiction can be difficult and even uncomfortable. Whether you suspect gambling addiction in a loved one or yourself, the hope and relief recovery offers are undoubtedly worth the discomfort.

According to research from Research Institute on Addictions University at Buffalo State University, 1% and 2% of the U.S. adult population, or 2 to 4 million adults, will experience a gambling disorder in their lifetime.

By familiarizing yourself with the top 8 warning signs of gambling addiction, you can better assess if you or a loved one has a gambling problem and take the first steps to recovery. Keep in mind not all gambling addicts will perfectly match these warning signs—this list only outlines the most common

1. Obsession or Inability to Stop Gambling

Obsessing over gambling is probably the most common sign of gambling addiction, especially early in addictive behavior. Some addicts may later try to hide their gambling problem to avoid criticism or consequences from loved ones.

People in the early stages of gambling disorder may be excited and fixate on visiting the casino or gambling online. Gambling addicts may also abandon or show disinterest in previous hobbies or interests, instead focusing all their energy on gambling.

Many will also relive previous gambling experiences, talking about their “big win” and chasing that same experience.

Common signs of obsession with gambling include:

  • Constantly talking about gambling or making plans to gamble
  • Preoccupied with the next gambling session
  • Uninterested in previous hobbies or interests
  • Constantly reliving past gambling experiences
  • Obsessing over gambling websites and apps
  • Constantly researching gambling strategies or consuming gambling content online
  • Desire to gamble without caring about the type of gambling (i.e., gambling just to gamble)

2. Gambling Despite Consequences

Losing money while gambling is common, if not expected. Casual gamblers know this and typically plan to risk only a set amount of money. However, problem gamblers fail to set these limits or stick to established limits.

Despite how much money gambling addicts lose or how many financial problems they put themselves in, they cannot stop their addictive behavior. In fact, many addicts believe they can win back their losses by continuing to gamble, a practice commonly called “chasing losses.”

Aside from financial consequences, many problem gamblers develop issues at work or school, with friends and family members, and develop physical or mental health problems. Unfortunately, even after experiencing many hardships, addicts cannot stop gambling activity.

Common consequences of gambling include:

  • Being unable to afford basic needs
  • Incurring late charges or defaulting on payments
  • Destroying your credit score
  • Losing your home, car, or other possessions
  • Legal trouble
  • Being fired or expelled from school
  • Developing mental illness or worsening existing mental illness
  • Poor physical health
  • Damaging relationships with other people
  • Divorce
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

3. Feeling Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Gambling

Withdrawal is commonly associated with drug and alcohol addiction, but symptoms can also occur with behavioral addictions like gambling disorder.

Gambling withdrawal occurs because gambling activates the brain’s reward center, which triggers the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

As the brain becomes dependent on the repeated release of dopamine to function properly, unpleasant symptoms can arise when the addict isn’t gambling, or they attempt to stop.

Once the withdrawal symptoms become unbearable, the temptation to gamble again may feel impossible to resist.

Common side effects of gambling withdrawal include:

  • Loss of interest in healthy activities and hobbies
  • Intense urges or cravings to gamble
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Change in sex drive
  • Loss of appetite
  • Physical symptoms like fatigue, muscle soreness, heart palpitations, and difficulty breathing
  • Insomnia and changes in sleep patterns
  • Feeling guilty or disappointed with yourself
  • Sudden mood swings or bursts of anger
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

4. Constant Borrowing or Stealing Money

Compulsive gamblers may blow through their money quickly, leading them to seek other sources of funds to gamble with.

Friends and family are often the first targets until they catch on and refuse to help. The gambling addict may work through less-close contacts, like colleagues and acquaintances, down the road when loved ones realize their money is funding a gambling habit.

In severe cases of gambling addiction, the addict may engage in illegal ways of getting gambling money, especially if their gambling addiction has led to job loss.

Addicts might steal money or valuables to pawn from family and friends or commit crimes like fraud, embezzlement, shoplifting, forgery, robbery, burglary, and petty theft.

Reports from members of Gamblers Anonymous claim:

  • 80 to 90% of individuals reported engaging in illegal acts to get money for gambling
  • 57% had stolen to finance their gambling, with a combined financial impact of theft equaling $30 million
  • 63% wrote bad checks
  • 30% reported stealing from work
  • Compulsive gamblers are arrested 7 times more frequently than non-gamblers

5. Risking Important Relationships

Family and friends can easily be negatively affected by an addict’s gambling problem, whether through financial or emotional means. Loved ones who rely on the addict for financial or emotional stability may begin to feel resentful or mistrustful due to lies, manipulation, or theft.

It’s common for gambling addicts to face divorce, breakups, or estrangement from friends and family. Addicts can also endanger relationships with colleagues, mentors, and coworkers, losing important employment or educational opportunities in the process.

Research indicates that gambling addiction has the following impacts on relationships:

  • Pathological gamblers have a 53.5% lifetime divorce rate
  • 23% of the spouses of pathological gamblers were physically and verbally abused
  • 17% of the children of pathological gamblers received physical and verbal abuse
  • Children of pathological gamblers frequently reported feelings of anger, sadness, and depression
  • Children of compulsive gamblers were more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs

6. Feeling Guilt or Shame After Gambling

Not all people with gambling addictions feel guilt or shame, especially if they still deny their behavior is problematic. However, some addicts that know they have a problem or have attempted to quit gambling and failed may experience intense guilt or shame after gambling.

These feelings of shame, guilt, and disappointment in oneself can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. Gambling addicts may feel trapped in their addiction and helpless to stop.

7. Dysfunction in Daily Life

Severe cases of gambling addiction can result in a total breakdown of daily functioning for the addict. As a result, some addicts may lose their jobs or face school expulsion, leaving them directionless and adrift.

For addicts with co-occurring mental illnesses or health conditions, gambling addiction may cause symptoms to worsen and lead to further dysfunction in daily life.

Common signs of dysfunction due to gambling addiction include:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Poor living conditions due to neglect
  • Wearing dirty clothes
  • Unable to complete daily tasks
  • Eating a poor diet or struggling to eat regular meals
  • Neglecting relationships or family members
  • Asking to borrow money to cover major living expenses such as rent/mortgage
  • Declining work or academic performance
  • Getting fired or expelled due to poor performance

8. Lying or Hiding Gambling

Lying about or hiding evidence of gambling addiction is very common, especially once loved ones wise up to the addict’s gambling problem.

Addicts often lie about where they are, delete their browsing history on gambling sites, hide bank or credit card statements, or lie about where their money went.

Common signs of lying or hiding gambling include:

  • Using cash only to avoid a paper trail
  • Lying about whereabouts
  • Hiding or destroying bank statements
  • Lying about large transactions or withdrawals
  • Making excuses for needing more money
  • Blaming or accusing others of stealing money
  • Lying about missing valuables
  • Hiding credit cards, debit cards, or checkbooks

What to Do if You Notice These Gambling Addiction Warning Signs

Identifying the signs of gambling addiction in yourself or a loved one is an important first step in recovery. If you suspect gambling addiction is present, do not wait for “rock bottom” or things to worsen.

The faster gambling addiction is addressed, the faster treatment can begin, and dire consequences can be avoided or lessened. Full recovery from gambling addiction is possible with proper treatment and support.

1. Take Gambling Self-Assessments

Self-assessments are not the same as a diagnosis—instead, they can be helpful tools to determine if gambling addiction might be present. Remember that self-assessments are only useful when the person taking them is being honest with themselves.

Common self-assessment tools include:

2. Talk to Trusted Family, Friends, Clergy or Peers

Whether about yourself or a loved one, discussing your concerns with people whose opinions you value and trust can be constructive.

Choose non-judgmental and logical individuals who will hear you out, offer sound advice, and extend their support.

3. Find Treatment Options for Gambling Addiction

If you still believe you or a loved one has a gambling problem after self-assessments and discussions, it’s time to consider treatment options. Luckily, many evidence-based treatments are available for gambling addiction, usually starting with behavioral therapy.

In addition to rehab (yes, that’s available for gambling addicts), there are many self-help options to choose from when recovering from gambling addiction.

From books and support groups to mobile apps and online forums, a simple internet search will yield many results.

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Signs You May Have a Gambling Addiction

Do you suspect you might have problems with gambling? Checking in with yourself and trusting your instincts if something seems off is a good idea.

Common signs you may have a gambling addiction include:

  • Being obsessed with gambling
  • Abandoning previous interests or hobbies for gambling
  • Gambling more than you can afford to lose
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same high
  • Feelings of negative or intense emotions when you gamble
  • Constantly borrowing money for gambling
  • Maxing out credit cards or taking out retirement or investments early
  • Struggling to stop gambling, even if you want to
  • Friends and family think you have a gambling problem
  • Lying about and hiding evidence of gambling
  • Continuing to gamble despite negative financial, emotional, or relationship consequences

Signs of Gambling Addiction in a Loved One

Do you worry that a loved one has a gambling addiction? While watching a loved one succumb to gambling addiction can be heartbreaking, identifying the signs is the first step to getting them the help they need.

Common signs a loved one may have a gambling addiction include:

  • Unable to stop thinking or talking about gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve negative feelings or stress
  • Hiding or lying about how much money they’ve gambled
  • Neglecting other parts of their life to gamble
  • Asking to borrow money or needing help with paying for basic needs
  • Stealing money or valuables to pawn for gambling money
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Unable to function in daily life

What Is the Difference Between Problem Gambling and Gambling Addiction?

Problem gambling and gambling addiction are different, although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

First, all gambling addicts are considered problem gamblers because their gambling habits are problematic. However, not all problem gamblers will turn into gambling addicts.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder. In contrast, problem gambling is a set of unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors related to gambling; it is NOT a mental health condition.

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When Should I See a Doctor About Problem Gambling?

You or a loved one should see a doctor about problem gambling when the behavior begins to impact the person negatively and those around them financially, emotionally, or physically.

Even if you think the behavior is mild or not yet at the level of “addiction,” speaking with a healthcare professional about gambling behaviors never hurts.

You may be able to catch an addiction before it becomes severe or avoid any future harm by addressing problem gambling as soon as possible.

Finding Help For Gambling Addiction

Thankfully, gambling addiction treatment is more available now than ever. If you’re concerned that you or a loved one are showing signs of a gambling problem, getting help and support is the best way to prevent further damage to finances or health.

Speak with your doctor about getting evaluated for gambling addiction and referred for treatment.

You can also locate gambling addiction treatment using SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or by calling their helpline at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP).

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FAQs About Gambling Addiction Warning Signs

What are the main signs that someone is addicted to gambling?

Common signs that someone is addicted to gambling include:

  • Unable to stop thinking or talking about gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve negative feelings or stress
  • Hiding or lying about how much money they’ve gambled
  • Neglecting other parts of their life to gamble
  • Asking to borrow money or needing help with paying for basic needs
  • Stealing money or valuables to pawn for gambling money
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Unable to function in daily life

What are some red flag behaviors in gambling?

Red flag behaviors in gambling include:

  • Obsessing over gambling
  • Attempting to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
  • Gambling more than you can afford to lose
  • Feeling shame or guilt after gambling
  • Lying about or hiding evidence of gambling
  • Feeling a “high” from gambling
  • Abusing substances while gambling

What makes gambling addictive?

Gambling often activates the brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine. Dopamine plays a part in pleasure and can produce feelings similar to a “high.”

By gambling excessively, the brain can become dependent on the release of dopamine and eventually can’t function properly without it. In addition, the emotional highs and lows can make gambling attractive to certain people at risk for addiction.

Can you get help for gambling addiction?

Yes. Full recovery from gambling addiction is attainable with the right treatment, support system, and commitment to abstaining from gambling.

How is gambling addiction treated?

Most treatment plans for gambling addiction include behavioral therapy, group therapy, and relapse prevention.

Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, National Council on Problem Gambling, and Gam-Anon can also help them stay accountable and feel less alone during and after treatment.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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