Heather Fisher Professional Drug & Alcohol Interventionist

Gambling Addiction

For many people, hitting the casinos and spending a night on the town is an occasional hobby or part of a fun vacation with seemingly minor consequences. But for others, gambling is a compulsive behavior that they cannot control. It eventually begins to impact their daily function, social life, interpersonal relationships and can have long-term financial and legal consequences. Gambling addiction is a mental health disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Criteria for the diagnosis are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Gambling is a behavior that can stimulate the brain’s reward system in the same way drugs and alcohol can. Those suffering from a gambling addiction continually make bets that lead to severe negative consequences and cannot stop without intervention or professional help.

Compulsive gambling is harmful to both an individual’s mental and physical health. The rate of problem gambling in the United States has risen over the past few years, with around 6 million people needing help and seeking treatment for the condition.

It is important to note that gambling is not a financial problem. It is an emotional problem that causes negative financial consequences.

DSM 5 Criteria for Gambling Addiction

The DSM-5 states that an individual must experience at least 4 of the following symptoms during the past year to be diagnosed with gambling addiction.

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to feel excitement.
  2. Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop gambling.
  3. Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop, control, or reduce gambling.
  4. Thinking often about gambling and making plans to gamble.
  5. Gambling when feeling distressed.
  6. Returning to gamble again after losing money
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activities.
  8. Experiencing relationship or work problems due to gambling
  9. Depending on others for money to spend on gambling.

Gambling Addiction Screening

Adapted from NCPG/SOGS and DSM-5
Responses should be based on behavior over the past 90 days

NOTE: Addiction is progressive, chronic and 100% recoverable when treated.

Disclaimer: This screening is not designed to make a diagnosis or take the place of a professional diagnosis
consultation. Use this brief screening tool to help determine if further action is recommended.
For help in selecting the proper level of treatment in your area please contact our office.

Other Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

An individual with a gambling addiction may also struggle with the following behaviors.

  • Obsessing over gambling
  • Gambling to cope with emotions.
  • Stealing from others to gamble
  • Losing friends and important relationships due to gambling habits
  • Losing possessions due to gambling

Causes and Triggers

Gambling addiction can happen to anyone. Many people that develop a gambling addiction have faced similar circumstances or life changes that led them to cope in an unhealthy way. Those who have experienced trauma, extreme stress, loneliness and isolation, and are struggling with other addictions may be more prone to developing the disorder.

Gambling can also be a secondary co-occurring diagnosis to a previously existing mental health disorder or other addiction.

Treatment Options

In general, there are a few different options for treating addictions.

Inpatient Treatment: Inpatient treatment provides an intensive, structured support system and schedule to an individual struggling with addiction. The days are spent in group and individual sessions entirely focused on rehabilitation and change. This may be an option for individuals who lack restraint and control.

Outpatient Treatment: Individuals still attend both group and individual therapy sessions either in the morning or evening for up to 6 hours daily while still reading at home. The outpatient treatment produces structure and support to an individual while still allowing them to participate in regular daily activities and responsibilities such as work and school.

Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other forms of talk therapy can help individuals identify triggers, negative patterns of thinking and behavior, as well as other underlying issues that may have led to their addictive behavior.

Medications: Mood Stabilizers and anti-depressants may reduce the appearance of erratic behaviors and lack of impulse control in those struggling with addiction. Consult a psychiatrist to better understand what medication may be helpful for you.

Self Help Groups: Groups like Gamblers Anonymous, Refuge Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery are community-based peer support groups aimed to help individuals connect to and be held accountable by others experiencing and those who have overcome similar situations.