How to Recognise a Gambling Problem


Gambling is a form of risk-taking in which you put something of value at stake in the hope of winning more than you lose. It can be fun, but it can also be very dangerous and lead to addiction. The good news is that there are many services available to help people manage their gambling, including support and counselling, and in some cases residential or inpatient treatment.

Most people have gambled at some point, either in a casino or on the internet. Most do so responsibly, but some experience problems with compulsive gambling, an impulse control disorder that is defined in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In order to qualify as having a gambling problem, you must meet the following criteria:

1. You gamble more than you can afford to lose.

Gamblers often use the money they have set aside for other purposes, like paying bills or saving for retirement, to fund their habit. They may even steal or lie to their family members to cover their losses. They may also be unable to stop gambling even when it negatively impacts their work, education or personal relationships.

People become addicted to gambling because of a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition and the way the brain is wired. Biologically, human beings are hardwired to seek rewards, which is why it feels so good when you spend time with loved ones or eat a tasty meal. These rewards are generated by a natural chemical in the brain called dopamine. When you gamble, the same chemicals are released in the brain. However, the pleasure is short-lived. The brain is more sensitive to losses than gains of equal value, so a loss generates more of a negative emotional response than a win. Losses are exacerbated by the fact that people feel they ‘should’ have won.

Despite the short-lived pleasure, the person continues to gamble in hopes of making back these losses, which leads them into a vicious cycle. People who have a gambling problem are also more likely to be younger and to have experienced trauma in their childhoods or teenage years, which increases the likelihood of developing a problem later in life.

It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit that you have a gambling problem, especially if you’ve lost money or strained relationships as a result of your addiction. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome the addiction and rebuild your life. You can start by strengthening your support network and finding healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an educational course or volunteering. You can also join a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Lastly, you can consider psychotherapy, such as psychodynamic therapy or group therapy. Get matched with a professional, licensed and vetted therapist in as little as 48 hours.