Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Gambling

For most people, gambling is an occasional fun activity but for others it can become an unhealthy obsession with negative consequences.

This blog outlines the common symptoms of compulsive gambling so you know what signs to look out for if you think you, or a loved one, might need professional help.

What is compulsive gambling?

Compulsive gambling – also known as gambling disorder and gambling addiction – affects around 3.3 million Americans from all walks of life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it “involves repeated problematic gambling behavior that causes significant problems or distress.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) has recognized gambling as a behavioral addiction. Sufferers crave gambling in the way other people crave alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. This is because the biological process that occurs in the brain when gambling generates excitement and a sense of reward. Compulsive gamblers are increasingly in pursuit of that sense of reward even if the consequences of problematic gambling threaten their physical and mental well-being.

In fact compulsive gambling can have long-lasting psychological, social and financial repercussions including bankruptcy, legal issues, relationship troubles, work problems, poor academic performance, and mental and physical health conditions.

Some people gamble to inject excitement into their lives, while others do it to escape from painful or distressing feelings. However, this can create a vicious cycle. The more they gamble to relieve stress and anxiety, the more the negative consequences of gambling lead to increased stress and anxiety. This pattern of behavior can become increasingly destructive over time.

At Kindbridge, we believe that treating compulsive gambling involves supporting your overall mental health and well-being as well as dealing with the gambling-related problems.

Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling

Some common signs and symptoms that your gambling may be out of control are outlined below:

  • Frequently thinking about gambling and planning how and when to gamble next.
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to find the same rush of excitement.
  • Attempting to control, cut down or stop gambling, without success.
  • Feeling irritable, restless or anxious when not gambling.
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Trying to recoup lost money by gambling even more.
  • Lying to family or friends to hide the extent of the gambling.
  • Missing out on education or work opportunities because of gambling.
  • Damaging important relationships.
  • Resorting to theft or fraud to support the habit.
  • Spiralling into debt.
  • Asking others for financial help because large sums of money have been lost through gambling.

A compulsive gambler can go through periods where symptoms subside and they are more in control of their gambling behavior, in between periods of more persistent symptoms.

If you can identify with the list of signs and symptoms above, or a loved one is displaying some of these behaviors, it is time to seek professional help.

Gambling disorder test

Take our online gambling disorder test to help you understand how gambling is impacting your life. The negative consequences of compulsive gambling can be challenging, but help is available to break the cycle.

Causes of compulsive gambling

The causes of compulsive gambling are not fully understood but they are likely to be a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors:

  • Mental health problems: People who gamble compulsively often have other co-occuring conditions including depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Gender: Compulsive gambling is more common in men than women. Men are more likely to start gambling at a younger age, while females typically begin later in life.
  • Age: Problematic gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people. Gambling in adolescence seems to increase the risk of compulsive gambling.
  • Genetic: Compulsive gambling tends to run in families at a rate higher than for many other behavioral and psychiatric disorders.
  • Peer influence: If friends have a gambling problem, the chances are greater that those around them may be drawn in too.
  • Personality traits: Certain personality traits may increase the risk of problematic gambling such as being a workaholic, highly competitive, impulsive, restless or lacking self-control.

Compulsive gambling medication

Sometimes, naltrexone – a drug used to treat alcohol dependency – is prescribed to treat people who gamble compulsively. It reduces the amount of dopamine produced and released in the brain so there is no reward gained from gambling. Over time, the craving for the rush of excitement caused by gambling subsides and the person loses their motivation to gamble.

Even if naltrexone medication is prescribed to facilitate gambling recovery, it should not be used in isolation. Compulsive gambling is a complex issue and recovery works best when approached from all angles.

Compulsive gambling treatment

Kindbridge offers online counseling specifically designed for problematic gamblers and their families. We understand the feelings, stresses and behaviors that occur with compulsive gambling, and our counselors will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan.

We are likely to recommend cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) – commonly used to treat people with compulsive gambling problems – to help you identify the underlying causes of the compulsive gambling and give you tools to make the changes you want in your life.

We can also provide support across the whole spectrum of mental health issues that often co-occur with problematic gambling.

We know that starting treatment may seem daunting. However, our expert counselors are ready to support you straight away. Get in touch now and book your free 30-minute consultation.