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What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling involves betting something valuable (often money) for the chance to win something more valuable. It’s a risky behavior and triggers the reward system in your brain. Similarly to alcohol or addictive drugs, gambling can become addictive.

Considered an impulse-control disorder, gambling addiction is progressive and characterized by compulsive behaviors. Individuals with a gambling addiction will feel unable to control their urge to continue gambling, even when doing so is harmful to their personal, social, and financial health.

Gambling addiction has far-reaching consequences. It may significantly impact your physical and psychological health. Gambling addiction may also have social implications, leading to tension at home and during social events. Due to the progressive nature of gambling addiction, it’s a condition that varies in severity and can worsen over time without professional help.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

One main sign of gambling addiction is when a person can’t stop gambling even though they want to. Other signs of this condition include:

  • A preoccupation with gambling that’s constant or near-constant
  • Multiple failed attempts to quit gambling
  • Developing a tolerance to the thrill of gambling, leading to progressively riskier behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Lying about gambling behaviors
  • Gambling to gain back money that’s already been lost
  • Choosing gambling over work, family obligations, hobbies, social gatherings, etc.
  • Experiencing work, family, or social issues because of gambling
  • Feelings of irritability or restlessness when one attempts to quit gambling
  • Turning to illegal activity like theft for gambling money
  • Asking others for gambling money
  • Gambling in response to stress, anxiety, or depression

Gambling addiction can lead to physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Migraines
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide

Denial is experienced by most people with gambling addiction. This can make it difficult for individuals with this condition to seek help. Friends and family members may share concerns about gambling an encourage the individual to find treatment.

How is Gambling Addiction Treated?

Gambling addiction is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual from the American Psychiatric Association (fifth edition). This publication is often used in gambling addiction diagnosis.

There are a few main treatment approaches for gambling addiction, including:

Individual therapy

Individual behavioral therapy can be effective in treating gambling addiction. This typically involves exposure therapy to alter habits and target the urge to gamble. The aim of cognitive behavioral therapy is to pinpoint the toxic thoughts triggering behaviors relating to the gambling addiction. Then, productive thoughts are introduced to take the place of the toxic ones.

Group therapy

Group therapy can be helpful because it allows you to relate to others with gambling addiction. This builds a sense of community and support. Group therapy is usually used in conjunction with behavioral therapy.

The gambling addiction of an individual can impact an entire family. In these cases, family therapy may be a beneficial treatment option and help repair damaged relationships.


Gambling addiction can result in depression, anxiety, and other complications that may benefit from medications. Those suffering from severe gambling addiction may be admitted into an inpatient program or residential care to stabilize their condition.