Gambling Anger, Mood Swings, and Irritability

It’s normal to feel upset when you lose a hand at the blackjack table or miss a parlay by one outcome on the weekend sports schedule. However, do you find that your mood swings are occurring even when not tethered to a specific wager? Are friends and loved ones “accusing” you of being easily irritable when not engaged in your favorite activity (gambling)? If so, your gambling anger may require internal reflection to ensure that there isn’t something deeper going on. Please read ahead to learn more before the issue erupts into a series of events that you can’t take back.

Why Habitual Gamblers Must Monitor their Moods for Anger and What Can be Done About It

Anger is a Symptom of Problem Gambling

Among the numerous signs and symptoms of problem gambling (and there are many) are moods swings and irritability. These mental states are common to compulsive table/slot gamers and sports bettors, with angry gamblers easily spotted in casinos and stadiums around America. However, impacted individuals are also found within family homes, lecture halls, workplaces, military bases, and behind the wheels of vehicles on any given day. This anger is the result of imbalances and hypofunction of two critical neurotransmitters – dopamine and serotonin – which are also known as the brain’s “feel good” chemicals.

Low Levels of Feel Good Chemicals

Gambling anger is often linked to the dopamine crash that occurs once the “high” of being engaged in gambling has subsided. The gambling + dopamine connection is well documented, indicating that dopamine levels drop dramatically when a compulsive gambler is not gambling which is to blame for a subsequent mood swing. Anger is a symptom of low dopamine levels.

Serotonin follows a similar trajectory as dopamine as it relates to compulsive gambling. Research shows that higher serotonin levels are associated with overall greater acceptance of gambling irrespective of outcome uncertainty. In laymen terms, high serotonin is partly responsible for a gambler’s continuation in the activity even if losing. Like with dopamine, serotonin levels begin to drop when a compulsive gambler stops gambling. A study conducted by Cambridge University found that when serotonin levels are low, it may be more difficult for the brain to control emotional responses to anger.

Hyperactivity of Feel Good Chemicals

There’s a flip side of the dopamine/serotonin equation that can help explain why anger and aggression may also occur when compromised individuals are engaged in gambling:

“Serotonergic hypofunction may contribute to the hyperactivity of the dopaminergic system, which further promotes impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Considering that serotonin hypofunction in impulsive aggression has been reported frequently across the literature and has a heritable foundation, serotonin hypofunction may be a neurochemical vulnerability marker of impulsive aggression. Dopamine hyperactivity may secondarily contribute to impulsive aggression, given the modulation of serotonin system over dopaminergic activity.”

National Library of Medicine

This neurotransmitter hyperactivity may help us understand why angry gamblers are threatening violence against athletes, coaches, and referees during a games.


Simply stated, compulsive gambling causes a significant imbalance in our mood modulating neurotransmitters. This dopamine bell-curve paints a fairly clear picture of the problem:

Gambling Anger Angry Gamblers

Source: Rostenberg Dopamine Bell Curve

*Catecholamines are hormones made by your adrenal glands. Dopamine is a type of Catecholamine.

Consequences of Being an Angry Gambler

Problem gambling related mood swings that lead to irritability and anger have consequences.

As alluded to above, this anger may manifest as verbal and/or physical aggression. This aggression may be taken out on strangers, coworkers, friends, and at home on a loved one. This is part of why separation and divorce rate among problem gamblers is so high when compared to the general population.

Moreover, there is a very concerning comorbidity between gambling disorder related neurotransmitter imbalances that cause anger and other mental/behavioral health issues:

“Serotonergic dysfunction in the PFC also appears to underlie the comorbidity of impulsive aggression with depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors […] These pathological processes may result in a failure to regulate emotion, leading to impulsive and aggressive behavior towards the self and others. Additionally, dopamine hyperactivity resulting from deficient serotonergic regulation can promote substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. Further, individuals with impulsive aggression are vulnerable to depression as a function of low serotonergic activity. The presence of depression may contribute further to self-directed aggression or suicide during severe depressive episodes or under significant life stressors.”

National Library of Medicine

The statistics regarding problem gambling and suicide and gambling disorder and substance abuse align with the research addressed above, indicating that there is much more at stake than being concerned about mood swings.

A summary of direct and indirect consequences of anger related to problem gambling include the following:

  • Separation and divorce
  • Loss of employment and income-earning potential
  • Motor vehicle accidents connected to related road rage
  • Self-injury and other complications with cooccurring mental/behavioral health conditions
  • Criminal and civil charges

Anger Management for Problem Gamblers

While it’s good for a compulsive gambler to recognize that they need to moderate mood swings, the path forward requires more than anger management classes. A more effective and holistic approach is to confirm whether or not gambling disorder is present (take this test to confirm) and if so, to seek help for the behavioral health disorder. This will get to the root of the anger problem.

Kindbridge Behavioral Health is America’s leading counseling resource for problem gambling treatment. Reach out via the contacts provided below to speak to a Kindbridge care coordinator.

Get a Handle on Gambling Related Anger Today

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

Gambling Anger Angry Gamblers