What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addictions can be some of the most difficult to deal with as their effects are so varied.

They can impact the mental and emotional health of an individual, whilst also causing financial hardship for them and their family.

What makes them doubly dangerous is that gambling addictions are hard to spot. Research shows that they are one of the most stigmatised conditions [1], and so people who are struggling may be very good at hiding them.

Spotting the signs of gambling addiction, understanding the resulting symptoms, and knowing how to get help, are all essential when it comes to combat the condition.

What are the signs to look out for?

It can be very difficult to assess whether someone you know has a gambling addiction or not. They might have a perfectly healthy and fun relationship with betting, and approaching them could be received poorly if your assumptions are incorrect.

When trying to judge whether something is wrong, it is important to look out for some of the key warning signs in an individual’s behaviour.

1. Being unwilling to stop gambling

It could be a sign of addiction if an individual continues to gamble in spite of the negative impacts it is having.

If they continue despite the fact that they are losing a lot of money, facing relationship problems, or are struggling to keep to work commitments, they are likely struggling with addiction.

The same applies to if they have been confronted about their gambling, either by a concerned friend or doctor and still can’t stop.

2. Being secretive about gambling

It is common for addictive gamblers to hide or lie about their gambling. If asked about it, they are likely to downplay the frequency of their betting or the amount of money they are putting on the line.

Other secretive behaviours might include sneaking away to gamble, or keeping the money won and lost hidden from their family.

This behaviour commonly occurs in instances where the financial implications of gambling affect another person, such as a spouse or parent.

3. Disruption of the usual routine

Gambling can influence an individual’s life in many ways, so if you notice unusual changes in their behaviour, there could be a link.

Warning signs might include unexplained absences or issues at work, a lack of care towards maintaining relationships, or suddenly abandoning arranged plans.

Gambling tends to dominate an individual’s thinking when they have become addicted, so it is common for their attention and effort to decrease in other areas of their life.

4. Financial complications

Of course, gambling can have financial implications on the individual and those close to them.

If they have lost money, or find themselves in sudden hardship, it could be due to a large loss.

It is common for addictive gamblers to increase the amounts of money they wager with time. If an individual begins putting large or unaffordable amounts of money on the line, it could be a sign of addiction.

5. Breaking laws

Gambling makes people desperate, and when they may not have the funds to make bets, it is common for them to turn to illegitimate means of getting money.

If an individual begins taking money from people, borrowing and not giving it back, or even taking it through illegal means, they might be addicted.

They might also be under high levels of stress as a result of lost bets, and this can sometimes result in sudden spurts of anger and frustration.

If an individual begins getting into fights or lashing out, this can also be a sign that their gambling is going too far.

What are the symptoms?

As well as the signs of addictive gambling, it is also important to understand what the condition does to the individual who is struggling.

It can have varied effects on them, influencing them on a mental, emotional, and even physical level.

1. Mental

When an individual is addicted, it dominates their thoughts. Gambling is all they think about, all they care about, and it becomes an obsession.

They think about it while they are not gambling, and once they have just won or lost a bet, they are planning the next one.

This will involve thinking about how they will get money without getting caught, and what they can do to cover up large losses.

2. Emotional

Addictive gambling isolates the individual, pushing them away from their friends and family. It forces them into their own head and makes them feel like gambling is the only source of pleasure in their lives.

Their emotions can become erratic. They can experience immense guilt when they gambled, depression and anger if they lose a lot of money, or anxiety if they cannot think of a way to sustain their addiction.

3. Physical

Just like other addictions, gambling can affect an individual’s physical self.

As they fall deeper into their addiction, they begin to build up a resistance to the thrill of gambling, and so have to constantly increase the stakes. This effect can build, making the individual feel numb or senseless to the world around them.

If they are struggling to keep up their gambling, an individual can also experience withdrawal symptoms. These can range from person to person and might include shaking, sweating, or insomnia.

4. The damage of gambling

Spotting and treating a gambling addiction is vital. If left untreated, the nature of the addiction means that gambling will only become more frequent and risky.

This means that the potential damage will constantly increase, both for the individual and their families.

5. The individual

For the person going through the addiction, their lives can be severely damaged. They can lose relationships, employment opportunities, and their financial security.

When their focus is consumed by gambling, they can let everything else fall away, leading them to become both increasingly isolated and dependent on gambling for comfort.

6. The family

The people around the individual will find they are losing them. They will see their friend or family member slipping away from life outside of gambling, and talking to them will become difficult when they only have one thing on their mind.

The financial effects of gambling also come into play here. When an individual begins to increase the riskiness of their bets, they will begin to use the money of their spouses, friends, or children. Savings can quickly dry up, and this can have devastating effects on family life.

What causes gambling addiction?

People become addicted to gambling because of the thrill it creates. When an individual wins a bet, a hormone called dopamine is released in the brain, generating pleasure.

The brain remembers this feeling, and when it wants to feel pleasure again in the future, it looks to reproduce it by doing the same action. This association becomes stronger over time until the brain constantly looks to gambling to feel good.

Not everyone who gambles becomes addicted. Factors that influence an individual’s susceptibility to addiction include:

  • Age – gambling addictions are more likely to develop in younger people
  • Mental health disorders – those with conditions that provoke a lot of negative emotions tend to look to gambling as a way of feeling good
  • Social group – if you are surrounded by gamblers, you are more likely to become an addict yourself
  • Personality – competitive and impulsive people tend to become gamblers, as well as those who become bored easily

Getting help

If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling addiction, speak with your GP. You can discuss the details of your situation, and plan what treatment route is most suitable.

For gambling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a common method of treatment. It involves individual learning to identify their harmful thought processes and replace them with healthier ones.

This treatment allows individuals to see how their emotions and thoughts drive them towards gambling and teaches them to practice different behaviours in order to feel better [2].


[1] https://onlinedegrees.unr.edu/blog/nevadas-guide-to-gambling-addiction-hotlines-statistics-and-other-resources/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3361844/