When Gambling Becomes an Addiction

The individual who loses all his money each week at the horse track would likely be labeled as a compulsive, or problem, gambler. But the other individual who wins money every week could be labeled the same.

The amount of money that a person loses does not constitute whether or not they have a gambling problem. Money is not the root of the problem. The problem is when the act of gambling consistently interferes with or hurts family life, work, or the individuals themselves.

Any type of gambling can lead to a problem, whether it is the lottery, slot machines, bingo, sports, horse racing, card games, or casino table gambling.

Developing an Addiction

A person who buys a lottery ticket once a week or enjoys trips to a local casino isn’t necessarily a problem gambler. Gambling only becomes a problem when it becomes out of control and begins to affect an individual’s life in negative ways.

A gambling addiction grows in a similar sequence to a drug or alcohol addiction. A person harmlessly gambles for fun. Next, the person spends more time and money gambling. The more they gamble, the more they tend to crave the excitement and the chance. Just as drinkers can develop a tolerance to alcohol, gamblers can develop a tolerance to gambling. While the craving keeps growing, the individual spends less time focused on family and friends.

Signs of Problem Gambling

Gambling can cause both physical and psychological problems. Compulsive gamblers can develop intestinal disorders and suffer from severe migraine headaches. Anxiety and depression are common psychological problems found in gamblers. In severe cases, gambling has contributed to individuals taking their own life.

The American Psychiatric Association lists criteria that would define compulsive gambling. If an individual meets at least five out of ten of the following criteria, it meets the criteria for a pathological gambler.

  • Cannot control or stop gambling
  • Neglects personal relationships
  • Preoccupied with constant thoughts of gambling
  • Lies about gambling activity
  • Gradually increases gambling risks
  • Escapes from other problems by gambling
  • Resorts to illegal activity to keep gambling
  • Cannot emotionally handle restricting themselves from gambling
  • Expects that they can always get more money for gambling
  • Feels compelled to keep playing until they win

What Can Cause Problem Gambling?

Multiple internal and external influences can start an individual’s gambling problem. Some individuals start gambling during the boredom of retirement, others while in the midst of a stressful job, and others to escape memories of a traumatic experience.

Genetics influence some individuals. If a family member suffered from an addiction, it is more likely for an individual to develop one. Habits acquired from family members also raise the risk for addiction. A parent who has a drinking or gambling problem puts their child at greater risk for the same problems.

Research shows that many individuals who have compulsive gambling problems actually started gambling when they were adolescents. This news raises awareness that teens should be watched for any signs of gambling that becomes too serious or out of control. Problems treated in youth will benefit the adult.

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