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Help With Gambling Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Gambling disorder involves repeated problematic gambling behavior that causes significant problems or distress. It is also called gambling addiction or compulsive gambling.

For some people gambling becomes an addiction – the effects they get from gambling are similar to effects someone with alcoholism gets from alcohol. They can crave gambling the way someone craves alcohol or other substances. Compulsive gambling can lead to problems with finances, relationships and work, not to mention potential legal issues.

People with gambling disorder often hide their behavior. They may lie to family members and others to cover up their behavior and may turn to others for help with financial problems. Some gamblers are seeking excitement or action in gambling, others are looking more for escape or numbing.

See more on symptoms, & treatment

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Upcoming Events
National Problem Gambling Awareness Month
  • Sun,  Mar  01 - Tue,  Mar  31

National Council on Problem Gambling

Gamblers Anonymous
  • Wed,  Apr  01 - Thur,  Apr  30

Find a meeting near you. For individuals and families.

  • Wed,  Apr  01 - Thur,  Apr  30

Find a meeting near you. For individuals and families.

National Conference on Problem Gambling
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Tue,  Jun  23 - Thur,  Jun  25

A couple of friends and family members have told me they are concerned about my gambling, but I don’t think I have a problem, I just gamble for fun. How can I tell if I have a problem?

Gambling is a common, legal form of entertainment and recreation that is enjoyed by millions of people every day. The vast majority of people who gamble are able to do so without any long-lasting problems or harm. But, like alcohol, tobacco or drugs of abuse, gambling can become an addiction, and recent research has shown that up to 1 percent of the population is currently suffering from a gambling disorder. There are many different warning signs that gambling is becoming a problem. Among the most common signs are lying about gambling, not being able to stop or control gambling, spending excessive amounts of time gambling and being preoccupied by gambling.

Any gambling behavior that creates harm, distress and negative life problems could be a sign of a gambling disorder. Two simple questions to ask are: “Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?” and “Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?” A yes answer to either question suggests that there may be a gambling problem. Read More

My friend is a frequent gambler and has repeatedly asked me for money. Should I help him out so he doesn’t get in legal trouble, or is that just contributing to the problem and allowing him to avoid getting help?

Borrowing money to relieve desperate financial problems caused by gambling is one of the diagnostic criteria of gambling disorder. Giving money to friends, even with the hope that it will help, often backfires and creates more problems and stress. A healthier way to help out a friend who is asking for money is to share your concern about borrowing money. Friends will appreciate sincere honesty, an expression of concern and an offer to help out emotionally. Maintaining a firm financial boundary of not giving money to a friend “in need” will help to motivate them to seek professional help or help them to see how serious their problem may be. Read More

I believe my husband has a gambling problem; would Gamblers Anonymous be a good place to suggest he start to get help?

Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) is a self-help group, based in the principles of 12-step recovery. It is available both for people with gambling disorders and for family members (Gam-Anon). This is an excellent place to start to seek immediate assistance with support, education and learning about the recovery process. GA is not a substitute for professional treatment and anyone with a gambling disorder or affected by someone’s gambling should seek professional help. Many states have problem gambling helplines that can provide referrals to professional treatment providers. The national problem gambling helpline is 1-800-522-4700. For states that do not have gambling treatment services, a good starting place would be to seek help from any locally trained addiction treatment program or specialist. Read More


About the Expert:

Timothy Fong, M.D.
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA
Co-director, UCLA Gambling Studies Program

Mitchell's Story

Mitchell is a 43-year-old married man with two children, ages 12 and 9. He enjoyed gambling during high school and college, mainly with friends on occasional trips to Las Vegas or home poker games. In 2010, after securing a new job, he and his family moved to the West Coast. As part of this move, he relocated to a new home that was about 25 minutes from a casino. In 2012, his company downsized and he lost his job, which was shocking to him but not devastating. His wife went back to work and he became a stay-at-home dad.

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Editor's Choice

MAR 31 2020

‘Problem Gambler’ program responds to casino closures

The Times Leader

West Virginia’s gambling addiction treatment group, 1-800-GAMBLER, is letting residents know that they are still offering help during the COVID-19 crisis. The group, which notes that 1 in 50 West Virginians may have a gambling disorder, said now more than ever it is important for problem gamblers to know treatment is available. The closure of all the state’s casinos and video lottery establishments and the cancellation of sporting events may mean that many types of gambling are unavailable, but this doesn’t mean people have stopped gambling, or that those with a gambling disorder are cured.

MAR 26 2020

With Las Vegas Casinos Closed, Will Gamblers Quit?

Public News Service

Gambling is an impulse-control disorder on par with drugs or alcohol because it stimulates the brain's reward system and can be addictive. So, what happens when a nasty virus closes your home-away-from-home?  COVID-19 has shuttered most Las Vegas casinos, which account for nearly 40% of the state's general fund revenue. Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist at UCLA, runs a treatment program for gambling addiction, and says the closure of brick-and-mortar gambling spots means addicts will likely turn to horse racing or the lottery. "People with gambling problems are still experiencing gambling problems, so they find online gambling, other ways to bet on sports that are still operating throughout the world, like Turkish basketball or curling," he states. 

MAR 2 2020

Experts remind people to get help during Problem Gambling Awareness Month
ABC News

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Legal sports betting began in Iowa in August 15. The bill legalizing sports gambling passed in April and was signed by Gov. Reynolds in May. Problem gambling is the urge to continue gambling despite potential backlash. Experts say the calls for help with gambling addictions rise 30% at this time of year because of the NCAA basketball tournament. After Iowa legalized sports betting in August, the Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC) in Cedar Rapids expects to see an increase in calls for help, as well.


Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed

Philip Wang, M.D., Dr.P.H.
August 2018