Signs & symptoms


5- Signs & Symptoms Gambling Addiction


People suffering from gambling addiction become obsessive and compulsive about their gambling. This almost inevitably results in major problems in their finances, their relationships at home and workplace and deterioration in their mental and physical health. Gambling addicts often suffer from a multitude of emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies. For those seeking to determine whether suffering from gambling addiction, this page offers information on its most common signs and symptoms.


  • When does gambling become an addiction
  • Delusions of gambling addicts
  • Signs & symptoms of gambling addiction



When does gambling become an addiction

  • Healthy non-addicts can engage in gambling as a harmless activity, something that can be part of a social outing. But with those who have developed a gambling addiction, the activity is anything but social, casual, harmless, or recreational. The gambling addict spends all day playing cards, pouring money into a slot machine, or sitting transfixed in front of the computer at an online betting site. Preoccupied with gambling and obtaining the money to continue in their mad pursuit, they neglect or abandon outright their responsibilities in the rest of their lives. Family, friends, and job – all fall by the wayside. Many millions of people around the world gamble compulsively. One American government study puts the number of people suffering from a gambling addiction at five million, with another 15 million at risk of falling into the same category. More than five percent of people develop a gambling addiction at some time in their lives, twice the rate of cocaine addiction, according to this study. Everyone from the poor to the rich and highly successful can get affected by this type of addiction.


  • In the same way a drug addict uses drugs to escape feelings and cope with life, a gambling addict uses gambling as means of escape. People who suffer from low self-esteem attempt fill in the empty void they feel inside by gambling. Gambling is their drug, and it helps them to feel good about themselves and to works to kill psychic pain and produce a “high” in just the way heroin or alcohol does for the drug addict or alcoholic. Right alongside the euphoria and rush of excitement that the gambler experiences when betting is the blotting out of all other feelings. The gambling addict’s thoughts and feelings are consumed by the obsession to gamble. This focus on gambling enables the gambler to deny their life problems – to shut out the world. The job that he hates, the unpaid bills that haunt him, the wife made unhappy by his absence and squandering of money – this and every other unhappy detail of his life can, at least temporarily, be forgotten. When gambling, they feel disconnected (dissociated) from reality. The world and all its problems are for the moment blotted out. But like an alcoholic waking up with a hangover after a night of drinking, the gambler is forced after a night of gambling to face the wreckage he is making of his life. During moments of clarity the compulsive gambler – much like the drug addict – may swear never again to gamble. But after a time, the compulsion overtakes him and he craves the feeling that gambling gives him — that high, that euphoria, that dopamine rush and he is drawn back to gambling.


  • As with other addictions, pathological gamblers develop tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms. They need to increase the amount and frequency of the gambling behavior to achieve the euphoric sensation – the high they experienced the first time they won. Gambling addicts also show an inability to control their behavior despite repeated efforts to cut down or stop. As this downward cycle continues, the gambler places bigger bets and takes greater risks in his life in general. He seeks more excitement to feed the need for a bigger high. In the process — and as the years go by – gambling takes over his life. The gambling addict in the grip of his disease will gamble away money despite the harm it may cause. He may run up debts by borrowing money or maxing out credit cards. He will sell his possessions and will take money from friends and relatives that he has no hope of paying back. Gamblers often end up in legal trouble. They steal from the job. They put themselves at risk by associating with types of people they otherwise would have nothing to do with, such as borrowing from loan sharks. They write checks when there’s no money in the bank to back them up. They know they cannot afford to lose; yet they continue.



Delusions of gambling addicts

  • Gambling is an ineffective and unreliable way of acquiring money. Yet to people addicted to gambling this truth eludes them. They tend to believe their luck is different; they are smarter, more intuitive, gifted or luckier than others. A person who has developed an addiction to gambling has lost the ability to differentiate the truth from fantasy. They tend to have difficulty accepting the nature of their problem using all sorts of irrational thinking and beliefs to rationalize their behaviour. Contemplating the mess he is making of his life, the gambling addict may be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and remorse. But as with all addictions, these very feelings usually lead him to seek the only relief he knows, which is gambling – and so the self-destructive cycle of addiction continues. Just as it is with someone addicted to a substance like cocaine or heroin, gambling addicts will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to control or stop their gambling behaviour. Though there are no physical symptoms, they may experience psychological and emotional withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, moodiness or depression.


  • Gambling addicts have a tendency to be novelty seekers, people more likely to take unreasonable and dangerous risks. This personality trait leads them to gamble even more despite having suffered consequences such as severe damage to their finances, family life or work. Many gambling addicts have other addictions as well. About half of gamblers who enter treatment programs for their addiction have histories of substance abuse or other types of behavior addictions. As with other addictions, denial plays a big part in preventing gambling addicts to seek recovery. They use all types of defence mechanisms like blaming others, minimizing the extend or severity of their gambling habit and rationalizing their destructive actions so as not to face their problem and continue with their gambling. As with substance destructive evidence addicts continue with their addiction believing they are in control or that this time it will be different. A gambler who has lost all his money time and time again may steal from his family, mortgage his house unbeknown to his wife or borrow from loan sharks believing if he gambles again, this time he will win and that all will be fine. Despite the consequences they may suffer such as loosing their family, getting in trouble with the law or dodgy characters, they will pursue this fantasy until they have reached rock bottom where they will either wake up to the reality of their problem or end up in jails, mental institutions or contemplate suicide.


  • For further information on defence mechanisms commonly used by addicts to deny their addiction, please refer to  Mental Addiction in the Disease Addiction section.


Below is a description of some of the common delusions and distorted beliefs that leads gambling addicts to stay in denial.




Delusions gambling addicts



1. Attribution

Gambling addicts may believe their winnings occur as a result of their luck or wits and not randomly. They may believe they are special in some way and that their addictions, usually those around the gambling addict can see how out of control their life has become whist the addict continues to stay in denial using all sorts of defence mechanisms so as not to admit to his or her problem. In step two of 12 Step programs this type of thinking is referred to as insanity, when despite all the specialness will be rewarded with a win.


2. Systems

Gambling addicts may believe that by learning or figuring out a certain system (a pattern of gambling in a particular way), they are at an advantage to win and can beat the odds against them.


3. Selective recall

Gambling addicts tend to remember their wins only and forget or dismiss their losses. They reduce the number of losing experiences in their minds by thinking they “almost” won. This justifies them to further gamble in attempt to win. When they have lost they view it as near misses, which in turn stimulates them, to engage further in their gambling activity and it can even give them a sense of euphoria greater than actually winning.


4. Personification of gambling device

Gambling addicts sometimes attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects, which are part of the gambling process. They may think that a particular machine, dice or item can bring them more luck. They may have rituals around their gambling activities, may be superstitious such as engaging in the gambling activity at certain times, in specific places or with certain clothing items thinking these can alter their chances towards winning.



Signs & symptoms of gambling addiction

Below are some of the more common signs and symptoms exhibited in people who have developed an addiction to gambling.


Signs gambling addiction

1. Risky behaviours

  • Taking bigger risks with your mode of gambling in order to achieve the same euphoria – the extreme “high” feeling experienced the first time you won.
  • Continuing to gamble despite jeopardizing the safety and security of your family, work, health or other aspects of your life.
  • Wagering more and more money, despite having none and resorting to borrowing or crime, in the hope that this time you will win.


2. Obsession

  • A preoccupation with gambling, either by thinking about your past gambling experiences or planning for future gambling activities.
  • Preoccupation with ways to secure money to finance your next gambling binge.
  • Thinking of nothing else but where, when and how you are going to gamble next.


3. Denial

  • Not being aware gambling has become a problem in your life and making excuses such as rationalization, minimization or blaming to deny gambling has become a problem.
  • Gambling as a way to deny or escape from your life problems.
  • Using gambling as the means to cope with or supress your feelings such as anger, guilt, hurt or pain.
  • Gambling so as to boost your mood and give yourself a false sense of happiness.


4. Withdrawal

  • Becoming emotional, uneasy or easily irritated when have cut back or stopped gambling.
  • Experiencing a range of erratic feelings that impact on your life and those around you.


5. Dependence

  • Depending on others for money to resolve dire financial situations that have been brought about as the result of your gambling.
  • Resorting to risky behaviours to obtain the money needed to gamble. These may include borrowing from loan sharks, taking out irresponsible bank loans, mortgaging home without your spouse’s knowledge or consent.
  • Becoming dishonest and manipulative and loosing your moral compass in order to fund your gambling habit. A person who has become addicted to gambling may break the law to finance his gambling. He may steal, forge, embezzle and use all sorts of dishonest behaviors to extort money from others in order to fund his gambling.


6. Unmanageability

  • Experiencing acute shame and remorse after each episode of gambling.
  • Hiding, lying or minimizing what you have gambled away to yourself or to your loved ones.
  • Promising yourself and your loved ones to cut down or stop your gambling activities, only to find yourself back at the game sooner or later.
  • Experiences the consequences of your gambling, such as loosing your home, divorce, and loss of job or reputation.
  • Experiencing emotional consequences such as anxiety, depression, aggression, violence or suicidal thoughts or tendencies.



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