Gambling Addiction Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction

When some people think of addictions, they think of substance abuse. While people who use and abuse alcohol and drugs have addictions, addiction can also relate to certain behaviors such as gambling. The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) found that 1% of adults in the United States have an addiction to gambling and that up to 9% of younger people have a problem with gambling.

What Is a Gambling Addiction?

A gambling addiction is also referred to as a gambling disorder or compulsive gambling. It makes you feel as though gambling has a higher priority than anything else in your life. Gamblers might go to horse or dog races where they have the chance to win money as they watch matches in real-time. Online gambling can also lead to problems as you play card games and place bets. No matter how you gamble, you find yourself chasing the high of winning money and doing whatever it takes to win big.

Physical Signs of a Gambling Addiction

As with other types of addiction, some of the signs of gambling addiction are physical. Physical symptoms are those that you can see. You can look for these signs in your life as well as in the lives of your loved ones. Depression and anxiety are two physical signs of a gambling addiction. Both of these symptoms can cause trouble sleeping, which leads to dark circles and bags forming under your eyes. The more time that you spend inside gambling, the less exposure you have to the sun. This can make your skin look pale or sallow. Gaining or losing weight can also go along with your addiction.

Emotional Signs of a Gambling Addiction

The emotional symptoms of a gambling addiction include spending more money to feel the way you did when gambling smaller amounts, having no success when you tried to stop gambling, and feeling out of control when you cannot gamble. You may find that your thoughts constantly go back to gambling when you try to do other things like hanging out with your friends or getting through a day at work.

A gambling addiction can affect your body in the same way that other addictions do. Instead of using the same amount of alcohol to feel the way you want to feel, you need to spend more money to get the thrill you crave. If you attempt to stop gambling cold turkey or try to reduce the amount that you spend, you may feel as though you have no control. This can cause you to feel irritable and angry or restless.

Some of the other symptoms of this addiction can include:

• Spending more money than you wanted to spend on gambling
• Using gambling as a way to cope with other feelings you have
• Feeling unable to stick to the financial limit you set for yourself

No Awareness of Consequences

There are tons of films and television shows that highlight the dangers of gambling. You might watch a movie where the main character borrows money from the wrong person to fund their addiction and gets beaten by a group of men. Television shows often use gambling addiction to show how quickly a person can lose their homes and friends because of their addictions. One of the big signs of gambling addiction is when the person has no awareness of the consequences they face. Gambling is the only thing that matters to them. They may stop spending time with their family and friends because gambling is more important or engage in criminal activities to get the money they need without worrying about what it might mean for them.

Behavioral Signs of a Gambling Addiction

While some of the behavioral signs of gambling addiction are similar to the emotional signs, you should still know what to look for when a loved one has a problem. Lying is one of the more common signs of a gambling addiction. Your loved one might lie about why they need to borrow more money or about where they were when they didn’t come home one night. They can also lie about why they didn’t pay some of your shared bills or why they didn’t go to work. It is common for gambling addiction to have serious consequences on your relationship. You may find it hard to trust that person again, especially if they refuse to get help.

Financial Symptoms

When an ordinary person heads to the casino, they set a limit and quit when they reach that limit. You might have a family friend who goes to Vegas and spends $500 before heading back to their room for the night. As a gambling addict, you will find that you cannot set the same limits for yourself. If you try to spend a smaller amount than you usually do, you may experience a problem that experts call chasing your losses. Chasing your losses is a term that refers to the way your brain reacts to the activity of gambling. You know that you had big wins in the past, which makes your brain think you can win again. This can cause you to spend more money to compensate for the cash you already lost. It can even cause you to spend more money in the hopes of chasing your next big win.

The financial symptoms of gambling addiction can cost you a lot of money in the long run. You might lie to your family about why you need money or resort to stealing to get the cash that you need. Stealing can happen when you can no longer afford your compulsive gambling or when you can’t take out enough cash from the ATM or your credit cards.

If you have a loved one you suspect has a gambling problem, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling lists several symptoms for loved ones to watch out for. These include noticing that someone you love has financial problems they cannot explain and finding valuable items missing from your home. A gambling addict may borrow from their loved ones with excuses like having their hours at work cut or needing money to pay unexpected bills.

While anyone can have a run of bad luck, someone who gambles a lot and borrows money to pay for their habit is someone with a problem. If the problem becomes worse, the individual may steal from you. They can use your valuables as collateral with a broker or pawn the items to get cash they can use for their addiction.

There are even more financial signs that can go along with a gambling addiction, such as missing money. If you have a gambling problem, you might find yourself taking any cash that you see around the house, like money your partner has in their purse or the change your child keeps in a piggy bank. Taking out multiple loans is another sign of a gambling problem. You might borrow from multiple banks and work with online lenders who have fewer requirements for borrowers. Other financial signs of a gambling addiction include:

• Often being short on money, even though the individual has a regular job
• Frequent notices from utilities and others that the person is behind on their bills
• Trying to hide paychecks and other financial records from their loved ones
• A lack of valuable items around their home
• Not having enough food and other essentials because they spent their money on gambling

Gambling and Crime

The U.S. Department of Justice found a link between gambling and crime. This department’s study found that more than 30% of gamblers who lived in the Las Vegas area resorted to robbery or theft in the last year and that 13% assaulted another person to get money for their addictions. The same study found that more than 33% of compulsive gamblers were drug dealers or sold drugs to someone else. This shows that a gambling addict is more likely to engage in criminal behaviors than someone who is a problem gambler or an individual who rarely gambles.

One thing to keep in mind is that the crimes do not always involve strangers. Assaults can occur during an argument over your addiction. It’s easy to lose your head in the moment and do something that you regret later. As the loved one of someone with a gambling addiction, you should not feel afraid to contact the authorities when that person loses control.

Suicidal Threats and Actions

The American Psychiatric Association found that gamblers have an increased suicide risk. If someone you care about has a gambling addiction, make sure that you look out for suicidal thoughts and actions. The individual may state outright that they want to commit suicide or make an attempt to end their life. Some of the warnings signs of a suicidal person include feeling helpless, using more drugs, or alcohol than they did before, and giving away things they love. If you think that a loved one wants to commit suicide, call for help.

How to Tell if You Have an Addiction to Gambling

While you can look for symptoms of gambling addiction in a loved one, you may have a hard time seeing those same signs in yourself. As someone who spends a lot of time playing games online or betting in real life, there are some questions that help you see if you have an addiction to gambling, including:

• Do you spend more money than you wanted or planned to on gambling activities?
• Have you noticed that you spend more time thinking about gambling than you ever did before?
• Do you find that you spend time gambling as a way to cope with your emotions or feelings?
• Have you developed a habit of reaching out to your loved ones for money to cover your losses?
• Do you lie to your friends and family to cover how much time and money you spent gambling?
• Are you in danger of losing your job because of your addiction?
• Have people in your life told you that you needed to stop or expressed concern?
• Do you spend a lot of money because you think your next win is right around the corner?

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

The best treatment for your gambling addiction is within your grasp. Whether you are a long-term gambler who noticed your problem worsened in the recent past or developed a rapid addiction to the activity, you can still get help. The treatment for gambling addiction can range from inpatient support to self-help groups.

Inpatient facilities help you choose the right type of therapy for your addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you how to replace unhappy and angry thoughts with positive ones that keep you from gambling, while behavior therapy shows you how to avoid the triggers that make you want to gamble. Many facilities also offer family therapy to help your support system recover together. You’ll also find treatment centers that work with self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous. These groups help you learn from other people who stopped gambling and work with people just starting the recovery process.

Medically Reviewed By:

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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