It’s not easy to tell when someone has a gambling problem. Addiction is by nature a secretive disease, and addicts go to extreme lengths to hide their problems. With compulsive gambling, it’s even harder, because there are no physical signs to act as a clue to the problem. Learning some gambling addiction facts and statistics can help you recognize the signs of gambling addiction in yourself or others.

1. Gambling Habits Aren’t the Same for Every Addict

A common myth is that compulsive gamblers gamble every day, or most days. This is true for some gambling addicts, but definitely not for everyone. Some people gamble rarely, but the way they gamble causes financial, mental health or other problems.

Another myth is that gambling addicts are addicted to all kinds of gambling. This is the case for many addicts, but some favor a particular game or sport. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a real gambling problem; it just means their addiction is more specific.

2. Gambling Addiction Can Affect Anyone, Even Children

Most gambling addicts are adults, but an increasing number of kids and teenagers are developing a gambling addiction. A major reason for this is that it’s easy for kids to gamble online, even when they’re underage. All it takes is a credit card, and any child can open an account on a gambling website.

Another reason children and teens develop gambling problems is that many online games have gambling elements. These games are accessible to kids and playable on phones and tablets. Some games advertise gambling websites, and kids end up on gambling sites without realizing it.

Gambling addiction facts and stats for the U.S. show that it’s a real problem.

  • 2 million U.S. adults have a gambling addiction.
  • 4 to 6 million U.S. adults are problem gamblers.
  • 2.1% of people aged 14 to 21 are problem gamblers.
  • 6.5% of people aged 14 to 21 are at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
  • 90% of high school students have gambled at least once.
  • As many as 6% of all college students may be problem gamblers – This is double the rate of the general population.

Exposure to gambling as a child is of concern even if it doesn’t lead to a childhood gambling problem. Studies show that the earlier children start gambling, the more likely they are to develop an addiction as they get older.

3. Sometimes Gambling Is a Symptom

In some cases, people become compulsive gamblers for reasons other than the gambling itself. For instance, people with bipolar disorder, personality disorders or drug abuse problems have a higher risk of being problem gamblers.

Some people turn to gambling due to treatment for Parkinson’s disease or restless leg syndrome. A few medications for these conditions have a rare side effect that causes people to develop compulsive behavior such as gambling.

4. High-Stakes Gambling Isn’t the Most Harmful Kind of Gambling

In movies and TV shows people are often devastated when they bet and lose large sums of money, but these high-stakes bets aren’t the most addictive. Other kinds are more addictive and more harmful, even though the stakes per game are lower.

Evidence shows that rapid-paced games such as slots and other electronic gaming machines are particularly addictive. These machines offer fast play, with the ability to bet rapidly and get instant results. In casinos, these kinds of machines account for up to 80% of profits, some even higher. Now that this kind of gambling is available online, it’s even more prevalent and problematic.

5. Gambling Addiction Takes a Toll in Many Ways

In a survey of gambling-related attitudes and behavior in U.S. adults, researchers found that gambling addicts had a high risk of financial, career and personal problems. For instance:

  • 13.8% of gambling addicts had lost a job within the previous year, compared to 5.5% of non-gamblers.
  • 53.5% of gambling addicts were divorced, while 18.2% of non-gamblers were divorced.
  • 19.2% of gambling addicts had filed for bankruptcy in their lives, compared to 4.2% of non-gamblers.
  • 21.4% of gambling addicts had been incarcerated at least once in their lives, compared to 0.4% of non-gamblers.

Studies on the mental health of gambling addicts have found that compulsive gamblers have a higher risk of depression than non-gamblers. Compulsive gambling is also linked to certain personality disorders.

6. Gambling Is a Life-Threatening Addiction

One dangerous misconception about gambling addiction is that it’s not as risky as alcohol or drug addiction. While alcohol and drug addicts risk serious health consequences—even death—there’s no physical risk of dying from a gambling overdose. Still, gambling does contribute to serious mental and physical problems.

Suicide

Even though gambling itself isn’t directly harmful, compulsive gambling can still be deadly. One little known gambling addiction fact is that it has the highest suicide rate of any kind of addiction. This may be because gambling addiction is a “silent” addiction. It’s harder to tell when someone has a gambling problem than it is when they have an alcohol or substance abuse problem. This means it’s more difficult for gambling addicts to get help. When there’s nowhere to turn, suicidal thoughts can take over.

An estimated 17% to 24% of diagnosed gambling addicts attempt suicide at least once. Other data indicate that Las Vegas and Atlantic City have suicide rates two to four times higher than other cities of comparable size.

Stress

Another reason gambling addiction is dangerous is the stress it causes. Studies show that long sessions of gambling behavior cause the same kinds of physical changes as chronic stress. Over time, they can contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.

Gambling causes a lot of psychological stress, and it causes physical stress too. This physical stress may contribute to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke in gambling addicts.

Need Help with Problem Gambling?

If you’re addicted to gambling, you may feel that you’re completely alone. Trying to hide your problems, you feel you have nowhere to go for help.

You’re not alone, and help is available. Call 844-876-7680 to reach The Ranch and get help for your gambling addiction now.

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Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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