Man bets live.

Gambling: When Is It a Problem?

Gambling addiction can happen to anyone. If you’re worried about your own gambling or have seen signs of addiction in your friends or family, reach out and get the support you deserve.

Maybe you’ve purchased a lottery ticket on your birthday or placed a bet at a horse track with friends. Maybe you’ve taken a trip to a casino to celebrate a weekend away or made an online bet for your favorite sports team. If so, you’re not alone. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), approximately 60% of adults in the U.S. have gambled in the past year.

But for some, gambling isn’t just something to do occasionally. For some, gambling is more of a problem and can even lead to gambling addiction. In this situation, gambling can cause financial challenges, legal problems, job loss and relationship troubles.

With gambling setting record numbers in the U.S. during the last couple of years, along with the rise of online betting apps, it’s important to understand gambling addiction and its symptoms, who is at risk and where you can turn for help.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), gambling addiction or gambling disorder involves repeated, problem gambling behavior. It is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your personal, family or work life.

Gambling addiction is often compared to other addictions, such as alcohol or drug addiction, where you may want, need or have tried to stop gambling, but feel like you can’t, according to the NCPG. For someone who is addicted to gambling, he or she may get the same effect from gambling as someone might from drinking alcohol. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, a person with gambling problems finds that it takes more and more to achieve the same emotional effect as before – and the craving grows.

What Are the Signs of Gambling Addiction?

Man betting online at home on his cell phone.How do you know if you or someone you love has a gambling addiction? According to the APA, there are common signs to look for when it comes to a gambling addiction, including:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling (thinking or talking about it excessively)
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
  • Becoming restless or irritable when attempting to stop gambling
  • Continuing to gamble despite serious or negative consequences
  • Being unable to cut back or stop gambling despite trying
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings such as stress, anxiety or depression
  • Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (often called “chasing your losses”)
  • Lying to family and friends to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Close-up of a hopeless woman opening her empty wallet.Risking important things in your life for gambling such as your job, relationships or financial stability
  • Relying on others to help with money problems or resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money

The APA states that to be diagnosed with gambling addiction, at least four of these symptoms should be present during the past year.

Who Is At Risk for Gambling Addiction?

Anyone who gambles can develop problems. There isn’t one thing you can point to that explains why certain people can gamble occasionally and others experience gambling addiction.  However, certain factors can increase your risk for gambling addiction.

Worried man looking away while working using a laptop.According to research by the National Library of Medicine, Veterans and military members are at increased risk for gambling addiction. Their research points to several potential factors, such as:

  • Transitioning Service members may seek an adrenaline rush or a way to relieve the “boredom” of civilian life.
  • Service members and Veterans may seek to escape mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Service members and Veterans may seek relief when experiencing changes to their financial, social, community or housing situations.

Additionally, the APA notes the following about gambling risk factors:

  • Gambling addiction tends to run in families, so if one or both of your parents has a gambling problem, you are at an increased risk for developing one.
  • Trauma and social inequality are two other factors that can lead to an increased risk for gambling addiction. This is particularly true for women who gamble.
  • Symptoms can begin as early as adolescence or as late as older adulthood, but research shows men are more likely to start at an early age.

Where Can I Turn for Help?

You may feel embarrassed or worried about admitting you need support. You may have debts you’re hiding or financial troubles looming. You may think your gambling is under control even when your symptoms show otherwise. Regardless of your situation, reaching out for support is a good place to start.

Gambling addiction can happen to anyone. If you’re worried about your own gambling or have seen signs of addiction in your friends or family, reach out and get the support you deserve.

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