Gambling addiction

For most people, spending an hour or two playing at an online casino or making an occasional visit to a land-based casino is a harmless pastime. It is seen as a way to unwind, enjoy a few thrills, and claim the occasional win, using gambling money that they can afford to lose.

But for some, this is not the case. For a few people, gambling can become an addiction. A hard-to-control instinct to keep playing casino games and betting on sports events long after others have stopped, risking their financial, physical, and emotional well-being. Like alcohol addiction, substance abuse, and other behavioral addictions, gambling can ruin the lives of addicts and those around them.

Compulsive gambling more often than not leads to a gambling disorder or gambling problem. Problem gambling, which is also known as Ludomania, is a medically recognized gambling disorder recognised by the American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A gambling addict finds it hard to stop gambling because they usually have an uncontrollable urge to gamble. In addition, compulsive gamblers want to activate the brain's reward system which leads to highly addictive behavior.

Gambling online has made slot machines and other gambling avenues accessible, but it has exposed many gamblers to problem gambling. This article covers what readers should know about problem gambling, the causes, gambling addiction treatment, self-help methods to stop gambling, and the negative consequences of problem gambling.

By Adiela de Bruyn - Updated 2024/02/08 - Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.

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Gambling addiction
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Causes of Gambling Addiction

Many factors contribute to compulsive gambling and the precise causes of gambling addiction are not fully understood. It is believed that compulsive gambling can trigger the brain's chemical reward system in a similar way to drugs and alcohol. It is also likely that a combination of genetic and environmental influences can play a part in gambling addictions. Here are some of the causes of compulsive gambling you should know:

Mental Health Problems

People who develop gambling problems often have underlying mental health issues ranging from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and other mental disorders. A gambling disorder is most likely to manifest if a gambler has underlying problems.


Compulsive gambling and other gambling problems are more common in men than in women, although both men and women are susceptible. This imbalance may simply be a result of the fact that it has traditionally been more socially acceptable for men to gamble.

Biological Factors

Compulsive or addictive behavior can be influenced by genetics, and you may be at greater risk of developing a gambling addiction if people in your normal life and social circle are gambling addicts. The biological factors (nature and nurture) that shape the important relationships in a person's life will determine if they gamble compulsively.


There is evidence to suggest that people who gamble as children or teenagers are at greater risk of getting addicted to gambling. Individuals who are exposed to gambling early will most likely become a compulsive gambler or gambling addict as an adult. Children between the ages of 8-15 are quite vulnerable to external influences that cause problem gambling.

Personality Traits

Those who display certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or restlessness could also be at greater risk of developing substance dependency or a gambling problem. Gamblers are highly influenced by their personality traits therefore it plays a large role in determining susceptibility to compulsive gambling.


Dopamine Agonists are substances present in drugs used to treat some diseases and they are known to cause compulsive behavior. Gamblers who take medication that contains this substance are at risk of compulsive gambling caused by the drug.

Peer Pressure

Family members and other close members of an individual's family life can influence them into gambling. People will always copy the behaviors they feel are acceptable to their immediate communities and this is not different for gamblers.

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The Signs of Gambling Addiction

Although there is some evidence to indicate certain groups of people are at increased risk than others, gambling addiction is a problem that can affect anyone of any age or background. There are different behaviors which are common to compulsive gamblers and these are used to identify individuals compulsive gambling affects.

As with other addictions, the first step towards dealing with the problem is to recognize that it exists. Understandably, no one wants to admit that they have a gambling addiction, and it can be painful to come to terms with, but the recovery process can only begin when you are honest with yourself. A good place to start is to ask yourself how many of the common signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling apply to you. Some of the problem gambling warning signs include:

  • Gambling money on ever-higher stakes such as scratch cards.
  • Spending significant amounts of time thinking about gambling.
  • Becoming restless or agitated if you can't gamble.
  • Chasing losses and hoping for a big win.
  • Lying to others about your gambling.
  • Using borrowed money to fund your gambling.
  • Choosing to spend time gambling rather than with your family and friends.
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling.
  • Turning to criminal activities to pay for gambling.
  • Being unable to stop gambling until you have lost all of your money.
  • Other people expressing concern about your gambling.

If you find that one or more of these signs and symptoms apply to you, then you may have a gambling problem. But once you've identified that you may have a problem, how can you beat it? Overcoming gambling addiction is hard, but it can be done and every year thousands of gambling addicts kick their habit and get their lives back.

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Consequences of Gambling Addiction

Compulsive gambling has numerous consequences that can destroy lives. Here are some of the negative consequences faced by problem gamblers:

  • Problem gamblers usually have financial problems because they are always in debt from borrowing to gamble and have lost money.
  • Relationship issues with family members because they spent most of their time gambling.
  • Compulsive gambling will decrease work performance and output which may lead to lost jobs.
  • Poor health as a result of excessive gambling and substance use.
  • Compulsive gambling affects the brain negatively and forces individuals who gamble to chase riskier bets until they ruin their lives.
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How to Beat a Gambling Addiction

There are various treatment options you can take to tackle gambling addiction, starting with the casinos where you gamble. That may seem like a counter-intuitive place to begin, but in fact, reputable online casinos have developed several options and measures in conjunction with gambling addiction organizations. These organizations have created gambling addiction treatment programs to help problem gamblers. This includes self-exclusion, which can tackle the problem in the short term. You can read more about these options here.

You can also close your account, but before doing so, request that the casino does not allow you to open a new account with them or any other related casino in the future, should you have a relapse. Properly regulated online casinos will always honor this request.

An increasing understanding of how gambling addiction works has led to greatly improved professional treatment for gambling addicts in recent years. It has become clear that gambling habits can often be influenced by deeper emotional or psychological issues that need to be resolved before the addiction can be tackled. These issues could include money problems, substance use, and using gambling as a means to escape problems. Your physician or mental health professional should be able to direct you to a course of psychotherapy that can help you get to the bottom of your problem gambling. This type of therapy will also give people addicted to gambling an environment in which they can open up about their problems and not feel anxious.

An alternative or complement to psychotherapy and counseling is the programs offered by gambling support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous and the National Council on Problem Gambling. These anonymous meetings not only provide a structured plan to tackle your addiction, but they also introduce you to others in the same situation. This is to help you to build up a support network as you go through your recovery.

If your gambling addiction is related to an underlying mental health condition, treating that condition with medication could be the key to tackling your gambling problem. For those with the most serious gambling addiction problems, a period of inpatient rehabilitation may be the best treatment, particularly if you are unable to avoid casinos or other gambling locations. For more information check out our article about The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF).

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Self-Help for Gambling Addiction

Many gamblers are looking for trusted ways to escape gambling addiction. It is not easy to navigate such difficult periods of life alone and addicts are encouraged to seek the support of friends and family members. Here are some of the methods you can use to provide self-help when you have a gambling addiction:

Seek help for underlying conditions: If you have any previous medical conditions that may have contributed to your gambling addiction, you should begin treatment. Treating these conditions makes it harder for you to relapse into gambling but it would also ensure that your mood is stable. With a stable mood, your emotions/feelings no longer have an outsized effect on your behavior.

Join a support group with your peers: You must find an anonymous group where you can share your addiction story without judgment. Joining a group with your age mates ensures that you are more comfortable when sharing and ensures that you are among similar people who have been through the same trouble you have. It is also important for you to find a sponsor who would be willing to hold your hand and guide you on your path to full recovery.

Find healthy outlets for your feelings: If you were using gambling to fill a hole in your heart then you must find healthier ways to express your feelings. Some people gamble because they are lonely, bored, stressed, or angry. Using gambling as a means to express emotion is the wrong way to approach life and can quickly lead to problems. Find healthy and meaningful ways to explore and express your feelings so that you gamble less.

Increase and strengthen your support network: It is important to build a strong network when you want to change your gambling habits. Where possible, make new friends, join a football team, or volunteer for a good cause. Keeping yourself busy is a good way to stay away from online casinos and other temptations that may cause you to relapse.

The Outlook

Gambling addiction is hard to beat, but it can be done. If you suspect you may have a gambling problem or that a friend or family member is addicted to gambling, speak to a doctor or a health professional. They will be able to give you the information and the practical help you need to tackle the problem and lift the shadow of gambling addiction.

There are many signs that compulsive gambling presents, and they include spending a significant amount of time and money on gambling, continuous gambling till all your money is lost, lying to people about your habit, and gambling on riskier games with each bet. These symptoms can be treated but the underlying causes which led to compulsive gambling should also be treated.

Gambling addiction can ruin your life and the lives of those around you. It is important to take preventive measures when you notice any symptoms and nip the problem in the bud. There are many methods you can use to treat gambling addiction, and casino goers are advised to check out these methods. It is important to familiarize yourself with these methods so you can help your friends when they need help.

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Frequently asked questions about gambling addictions

When do compulsive gambling symptoms start to show?

There is no definite period for when these symptoms start to show. The symptoms and frequency among gamblers vary, which is why readers are advised to look out for signs of addiction when they begin to spend long hours gambling.

How do you know when a friend has an addiction?

You can tell if your friend has a gambling addiction by looking for the signs of a gambling addiction on them. For example, if they spend all of their time and money on a gambling website or they start borrowing money to fund their gambling habit, they may have an addiction.

Are there resources to help with gambling addiction?

Yes, there are different resources and groups online that are available to help individuals fight gambling addiction.

Author: Adiela de Bruyn

Adiela de Bruyn

Adiela de Bruyn, our founder, launched this site in 2016. Since then, she's written over 100 pages filled with crucial info to enhance your gaming experience. Her goal? To provide you with the best, most reliable online casino knowledge.

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Article published 2019/03/05