Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Gambling means that you're willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.
Gambling can stimulate the brain's reward system much like drugs and alcohol can and lead to addiction. With compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.
Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives. Although treating compulsive gambling can be challenging, many compulsive gamblers have found help through professional treatment.
Can I be addicted to gambling?
How can you tell whether you are a compulsive gambler?
Signs and symptoms of compulsive (pathologic) gambling include:
- Gaining a thrill from taking big gambling risks
- Taking increasingly bigger gambling risks
- Preoccupation with gambling
- Reliving past gambling experiences
- Gambling as a way to escape problems or feelings of helplessness, guilt or depression
- Taking time from work or family life to gamble
- Concealing or lying about gambling
- Feeling guilt or remorse after gambling
- Borrowing money or stealing to gamble
- Failed efforts to cut back on gambling
On rare occasions, gambling becomes a problem with the very first wager. But more often, a gambling problem progresses over time. Many people can spend years enjoying social gambling without any problems. But more frequent gambling or life stresses can turn casual gambling into something much more serious.
During periods of stress or depression, the urge to gamble may be especially overpowering, serving as an unhealthy escape. Eventually, a person with a gambling problem becomes almost completely preoccupied with gambling and getting money to gamble.
For many compulsive gamblers, betting isn't as much about money as it is about the excitement. Sustaining the thrill that gambling provides usually involves taking increasingly bigger risks and placing larger bets. Those bets may involve sums you can't afford to lose.
Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, compulsive gamblers are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time.
Some compulsive gamblers may have remission where they gamble less or not at all for a period of time. However, without treatment, the remission usually isn't permanent.
When to see a Health care provider or mental health counselor
Have family members, friends or co-workers expressed concern about your gambling? If so, listen to their worries. Because denial is almost always a characteristic of compulsive or addictive behavior, it may be difficult for you to recognize that you have a problem.
Gambling is out of control if:
- It's affecting your relationships, finances, or work or school life
- You're devoting more and more time and energy to gambling
- You've unsuccessfully tried to stop or cut back on your gambling
- You try to conceal your gambling from family or others
- You resort to theft or fraud to get gambling money
- You ask others to bail you out of financial woes because you've gambled money away
- Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
- Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
- Did gambling affect your reputation?
- Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
- Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
- Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
- After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
- After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
- Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
- Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
- Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
- Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
- Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
- Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
- Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
- Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
- Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
- Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
- Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
- Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
Compulsive gambling can have profound and long-lasting consequences for your life, such as:
- Relationship problems
- Financial problems, including bankruptcy
- Legal problems or imprisonment
- Job loss or professional stigma
- Associated alcohol or drug abuse
- Poor general health
- Mental health disorders, such as depression
There's no proven way to prevent a gambling problem from occurring or recurring. If you have risk factors for compulsive gambling, it may be helpful to avoid gambling in any form, people who gamble and places where gambling occurs. Get treatment at the earliest sign of a problem to help prevent a gambling disorder from becoming worse.
Visit our Community and National Resources tabs for more information or call the Student Wellness Center for assistance.