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Help With Gambling Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Gambling disorder involves repeated, problem gambling behavior. The behavior leads to problems for the individual, families, and society. Adults and adolescents with gambling disorder have trouble controlling their gambling. They will continue even when it causes significant problems.

A diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:
1. Need to gamble with increasing amounts to achieve the desired excitement.
2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling.
3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling.
4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling or planning future gambling).
5. Often gambling when feeling distressed.
6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even. (This is referred to as "chasing" one's losses.)
7. Lying to hide gambling activity.
8. Risking or losing a close relationship, a job, or a school or job opportunity because of gambling.
9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

See more on diagnosis, symptoms & treatment

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  • Jan 04, 2022
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We often focus more on treating illnesses, both physical and mental, than on staying healthy. But the absence of mental illness does not necessarily mean good mental health. And we’ve all been dealing with the ups and downs, losses, uncertainties and changes brought on by the pandemic. The start of a new year is a good opportunity for self-assessment with a brief mental health checkup.

Friends and family 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. Recent research has shown that up to 1 percent of the population is currently has a gambling disorder. There are many different warning signs that gambling is becoming a problem. The most common symptoms are lying about gambling, not stopping or controlling gambling, spending excessive amounts of time gambling and being preoccupied by gambling.

Any gambling behavior that creates harm, distress and life problems could signify a gambling disorder. For example, 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 a diagnostic criteria of gambling disorder. Even with the hope that it will help, giving money to friends 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 an excellent 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 Experts:

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

Hector Colon-Rivera MD, CMRO 
APM Medical Director, 
President of the APA Hispanic Caucus 

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.

Read More

Editor's Choice

OCT 24 2021

With an explosion of sports betting and online gambling, Connecticut braces for a potential increase in problem gambling

Hartford Courant

Online sports betting and casino gambling barreled into Connecticut this month, prompting worries about an explosive increase in already common problems blamed on gambling addiction: heavier personal debt, broken relationships and crime. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says broader access to gambling with online betting exposes gamblers to “vulnerabilities,” such as financial difficulties, troubled relationships with family members and significant others, poor work performance, an increase in money-related crime and a reported increase in severity of mental health related symptoms. 

 Oct 14  2021

OPINION: It’s time to talk about gambling addiction

Indiana Daily Student

The National Council on Problem Gambling performed another study that showed the risk of gambling addiction, particularly sports gambling, is higher for young adults. “College students are more likely to participate in sports betting and in lotteries,” Lay said. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Timothy Fong, director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA, said young adults are more likely to develop a gambling problem. The convenience of online gambling, prior family history of gambling and introduction to gambling at a young age can contribute to one’s likelihood of developing a gambling addiction, he said. 

SEP  21, 2021

Podcast: Unpacking Gambling Addiction ary
Psych Central
Gambling is an accepted part of our culture, but how do you know when a trip to the casino stops being fun and becomes a problem? Listen as Allison Henning, LCSW, LCAS breaks down gambling and helps us understand the nuances of this common pastime. Where’s the line between recreation and addiction and how to help someone who has crossed it?


Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed

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