What Is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, also referred to as compulsive gambling, is a condition that is characterized as the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on a person’s life. Recognized as an addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), gambling disorder affects roughly 3.4 million people in the United States.

Like drugs or alcohol, gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system, which, over time, can lead to addiction. People who have a gambling disorder continue to gamble despite negative consequences like debt, marital issues, or loss of employment caused by compulsive gambling.

While it’s inclusion in the DSM-5 solidified gambling disorder as a diagnosable mental disorder, many people continue to question if it is real.

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Is Gambling Addiction Real?

Gambling addiction is very real. While there are many behavioral disorders that have not been recognized by professionals as a diagnosable addiction, gambling addiction has been a part of the DSM since 1980. The DSM is the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders; and is often referred to as the “gold standard” for diagnosing mental disorders.

A diagnosis of gambling disorder, according to the DSM-5, requires at least four of the following during the past year:

  • Need to gamble with increasing amounts to achieve the desired excitement.
  • Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling.
  • Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling.
  • Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling or planning future gambling).
  • Often gambling when feeling distressed.
  • After losing money gambling, often returning to get even. (This is referred to as “chasing” one’s losses.)
  • Lying to hide gambling activity.
  • Risking or losing a close relationship or a school or job opportunity because of gambling.
  • Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling.

People with gambling disorder can have periods where symptoms subside. The gambling may not seem a problem in between periods of more severe symptoms.

Why Gambling Is Addictive

The emotional rollercoaster of thrill and loss can create an attachment. When someone gambles, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, or “feel good chemicals,” which reward gamblers when they win. Many have compared the feelings associated with gambling to drugs like heroin and alcohol, making it easy to get addicted if left unchecked. Factors that can contribute to an increased risk of gambling addiction include:

  • Family history of gambling addiction
  • Gender (men are more likely to be gamblers)
  • Low serotonin
  • Job loss
  • Failed attempts to cut down on gambling
  • Trauma
  • Substance use disorders
  • Restless and competitive personalities
  • Dependence on gambling to ease stress

In order to determine if a gambling addiction is present, diagnosticians look at gambling behavior over the course of 6 months to a year.

How Much Is Too Much?

Gambling addiction can be a difficult disorder for many to come to terms with given the legality of gambling. For many, gambling is non-habit-forming and something that can be done socially without compulsive behavior. For others, unfortunately, gambling can become a compulsive behavior that quickly spirals out of control.

Gambling has never been more accessible than it is today. What was once confined largely to casinos in Las Vegas can now be done with the touch of a finger from the comfort of a person’s home. In more than 37 states, sports betting is now legal, with six more considering legislation to do the same. This ease of access, combined with how gambling interacts with the brain, can lead many people to develop a gambling addiction.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “how much gambling is too much.” What a person deems to be problematic may be normal for another, and vice versa. The real answer to the question of how much is too much is if it interferes with your life.

When gambling begins to cause problems or interferes with basic daily activities, it may be a sign that you’ve started to develop a gambling disorder. Other signs that you may have a problem with gambling include needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill, asking others to bail you out of financial trouble caused by gambling, or feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling.

Why Treatment May Be What You Need

If you or a loved one has a gambling addiction, it is not too late to get help. Gambling can wreak havoc on the gambler’s life and the life of loved ones. The end result usually creates financial problems and mental preoccupation. If you cannot control your addiction, intervention or treatment may be the next steps forward. Discover your online counseling options here.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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