Warning Signs of a Gambling Problem


Gambling involves placing something of value on an event whose outcome is based on chance. The game’s three components are consideration, risk, and prize. People may gamble on sports events, lotteries, or games of chance like keno or blackjack. Many people develop a personal philosophy about gambling that reflects their perspectives on luck, probability, morality, and practicality. The beliefs a person has about gambling can affect how they think about the activity, and even what it means to have a problem.

Some people develop a gambling addiction that can become dangerous or even life-threatening. It is important to know the warning signs of a gambling problem, and to seek treatment when needed. Some warning signs include:

A persistent preoccupation with gambling (for example, reliving past gambling experiences, planning or handicapping the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money to gamble). Continuing to gamble despite losing a significant amount of money and/or sacrificing personal, professional, educational or social opportunities. Attempting to win back lost money by gambling more or by obtaining loans or other forms of credit. Using substances, including drugs and alcohol, to control or reduce a gambling obsession. Frequently lying to loved ones about the extent of involvement with gambling. Jeopardizing or sacrificing a relationship, job, educational or career opportunity, or other possessions to gamble. Gambling is also a common recreational pastime for young children and adolescents, and it can have a negative impact on their development.

There are several reasons why people gamble, and research is ongoing to discover more about the underlying causes. One hypothesis is that genetic and environmental factors contribute to a person’s propensity for gambling. Another possibility is that differences in brain structures, such as the striatum, play a role in gambling cognitions and behavior. Some people have a lower activity in this region of the brain, which can lead to difficulties with impulse control and weighing risk-reward ratios.

The way a person approaches gambling can be affected by their culture. For example, some cultures consider gambling a normal part of daily life. This can make it harder for them to recognize when their gambling has become problematic. Furthermore, if they come from a community where gambling is socially acceptable, they can feel pressure to gamble and might be less likely to seek help when they are struggling.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) listed 10 warning signs of compulsive gambling. However, the DSM-V, which is currently in use, has eliminated one of these warning signs (criminal behavior). The remaining nine include: